GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Soccer players from several high schools in West Michigan arrived at Jenison High School’s athletic stadium Monday morning for the first unified soccer tournament in school history.
It’s part of Jenison’s Unified Physical Education elective, which the school started offering last year. Students of all abilities come together to enjoy various activities that involve physical fitness, lifetime activities and sports to create an inclusive environment for all students.
Kari Kossen has wanted to create something like this for years.
“Everybody coming together for a common cause is amazing. It just makes us feel great. That shows us the difference we’re making in our school,” she said.
Kossen was the varsity softball coach for 23 years before she retired. She never thought she would get back into coaching until this opportunity came along.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of accomplishments in our careers for softball, but with this, I see accomplishments every day. You just know you’re making a difference every day.”
Chayce Williams is part of the Unified P.E. class and is enjoying his first year playing soccer. He said he is “pretty good at it… I mean, I was a soccer goalie for our first game.”
Williams had the chance Monday to be on the field on offense and scored several goals, which he said he loves the most.
He is in the special education program at Jenison and was paired up with a partner on the field who helped him get the ball and move it down toward the goal.
Bodie Shanafelt is a general education student and is one of the partners in the program.
“It feels great knowing that I can assist them to make them happy to help them score and help them get the ball,” Shanafelt said.
Although the elective was introduced last year in the 2022-23 school year, it included only basketball, bocce ball and a few other options. Kossen has expanded the program this year with soccer and hopes to keep adding more sports as time goes on.
Jenison’s gymnasium displays a flag on the wall that says, “Special Olympics Unified Champion School.”
To qualify for that designation, a school must give all students the opportunity to play sports, give them leadership responsibilities and foster engagement with other schools.
Kossen is proud to have that flag as a symbol of what they’re trying to accomplish.
“We come together for a common cause: to win, to play together, and as we play together, we develop friendships and a sense of belonging, a sense of community,” she said.