Hand in hand, Lydia Mihuc and Minnie Marrow step onto the court in a December game against Wayne High School.
Hand in hand, Lydia Mihuc and Minnie Marrow step onto the court in a December game against Wayne High School.

Breaking Down Barriers

'Champions Together' unites community through competition

February 7, 2019

Every four minutes and thirty seconds a baby is born with a birth defect.

From this moment on, they are a living miracle. Some people even refer to them as “The closest thing to God on Earth.”

Walking through the stages of life, some hard times accompany these kids, and finding a place of comfort and joy is needed just as everyone else.

Sports have always brought people closer and NACS has decided it’s time for these kids to experience the same thing.

Kim Watkins; mother of Gavin Watkins, believes that this program has exposed them to a sense of being they’ve always needed.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids who can’t participate in sports, it gives them a sense of being, and being in a group,” she said. 

The Special Olympics and the IHSAA have partnered to make this dream become a reality. With the program titled “Champions Together,” each and every kid with special needs is able to participate in high school sports the same as any other kid.

This has been a very promising start to the program, but there is still an abundance of work to do to meet its maximum potential.

The IHSAA has recognized flag football as a state championship sport this year, as well as added bowling.

Competitive nature thrives in these kids. Giving them the option to compete at a level they have never seen, brings energy and hope to their future.

Not only does this bring out their competitive side, but it allows them to connect and grow with other athletes, coaches, and student helpers. They begin to open up and explore the unlimited opportunities in the world.

Head Coach Allen Bodenstein believes that the special needs athletes have gained a once in a lifetime experience from this program.

“Sports is just a vehicle for these kids to kind of live a normal life. Through sports they make friends, they have a social life, they do things they’ve never done before, and things their parents never thought they’d have the opportunity to do…so, it’s more than just sports,” Bodenstein said.

Positive spirits begin to grow inside of them and now they are able to share their happiness with someone new.

Carroll High School has adopted the program, and they are only a few years in. Helpers were scarce at the beginning of this new-found program.

After four years, students in all grade levels have began coming alongside one another. New opportunities have been found, and barriers have been broken.

The special needs athletes also receive awards and honors for their hard-work and dedication. This teaches them responsibility and how hard-work will carry them into the things they want in life.

Receiving letter jackets has become a profound award at the high school level, and these kids are now able to sport their own jackets.

“They have the opportunity to get a letter jacket. Every time we give a letter jacket the parents are in tears.” Bodenstein said.

Consequently, many changes have been seen since the Champions Together program made way into the doorsteps of Carroll High School.

This program focuses on involvement, and each and every kid is now able to gain the recognition they never knew was possible.

“It gives them the opportunity to be competitive, some overly competitive, but the adrenaline rush, to play in front of people, to meet new people, to learn new skills, to learn skills they never thought they had, to use muscles they never thought they’d use, and so there’s tons and tons of benefits for these kids“ Bodenstein said.   

Being a part of a special needs athletic program is an awesome experience, but there will never be anything on the same platform as getting to know these kids on a personal level.

Not only has this program benefited the kids physically, but they are able to walk the halls of Carroll High School as new people. A sense of spirit and pride has risen within them.

“I look at a kid like Bradley. He’s talking to people, his eyes are up, he’s high-fiving people. That never would have happened if he wouldn’t have had the opportunity he does with Champions Together.”

A smile, and a confident walk tells you everything you need to know.

Kevin Deatrick has been a helper all-year for these kids, and they bring him more joy than he could have ever asked for.

“Seeing them throughout the halls, and always coming up and giving me hugs, and always asking how I am doing, it just makes me smile. They are always a joy to be around and I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to have at Carroll,“ Deatrick said.

Sports for anyone is generally a therapeutic element in their life, but for these kids, it’s even more.

Sports has become a medicine.

It allows their anxiety and anxious ways to be tamed. Exposing themselves to new ways of life, while remaining physically fit.

It’s a place of comfort.

“They act with so much confidence now. I can remember when I first started working with them, they walked through the halls and they tried to be invisible. They didn’t want people to look at them, and they didn’t want to talk to people,“ Bodenstein said.

A place where they are completely safe to enjoy one another. A place to develop a relationship they have always wanted. A place enriched by beautiful smiles, and vibrant laughter.

Special needs sports in high school gives these kids a jump start to their wonderful life ahead of them.

“Were teaching them life skills; in the gym, socially, and were giving them tons of opportunities. A lot of that will be carried on with them throughout life,” Bodenstein said.

A community that grows together, stays together. By taking the time to reach out and talk to a special needs kid, it will not only impact THEIR life, but YOURS as well.

“You gotta do it! You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a great athlete, if you want to get involved, and you want to have a good time, and you want to enjoy the company of your peers, I would definitely do this. It’s really high school sports how it was probably meant to be,” Bodenstein said.

Gavin Watkins mom agrees.

“You definitely need to put yourself out there because it will make you grow as a person in general, and you will find friendships you didn’t know existed, and it will make you a better person,” Watkins said.

Contact Alan Bodenstein if interested in gaining a once in a lifetime opportunity with these kids.

Email: Alan.bodenstein@nacs.k12.in.us



“Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness.” – George Santayana  

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