Southampton High School made history September 21 when it became the first school on Long Island to field a unified soccer team and play at the Special Olympics Fall Classic against the NYC-based Cityhawks at Cantiague Park in Hicksville.
The team was formed as a spin-off of the district’s unified sports program, which has been in place for the past 12 years. Finding that students had a strong interest in playing soccer, a team of 36 was formed.
“Our students were very excited about forming a unified soccer team,” said physical education teacher Brian Tenety. “It is our hope that more schools begin to think about joining us so we can schedule more games, just like any other sport.”
Athletic director Darren Phillips said Tenety’s broad base of knowledge on unified sports was crucial to setting up the program. Besides unified track and field, bocce ball, bowling, and basketball, the district has created a unified physical education class.
“He’s always looking to give our students more opportunities — any students in our district,” Phillips said. “After we saw some ugly incidents during some really intense games, we knew we needed to do something to bring our students together.”
The gym coach began researching unified sports after looking at more traditional ways to get students involved, and asked himself how it could be done.
“The bigger question became, why can’t we compete together?” Tenety said. “That truly sparked the beginning of unified sports and the model of an inclusive environment.”
Special games were scheduled between Southampton and Hampton Bays, on the football field, before the district joined Section XI’s unified sports program for a more organized schedule. What Phillips likes is the games are competitive, and the students are held to rules and standards as any other varsity team would be.
“I’m thrilled that we’re doing this,” Superintendent Nicholas Dyno said. “We saw the support for our independent teams like this was growing. Students want to participate in as many teams as possible. Each of the students really enjoy it.”
The team will play at the New York City Inclusion Cup at Randall’s Island Park in New York City October 19. “It’s the most amazing, best games I go to every year,” Phillips said. “It’s so great to see the kids out there, getting excited, being like every other kid.”
Tenety said while he wants to create more and more teams for various sports, there’s an even bigger goal in mind.
“Right now we are just setting the stage for something larger than our accomplishments — and our entire school community is behind this movement. No longer should we just think of sports as a one-size-fits-all model,” Tenety said. “Sometimes you just have to create a new one so all can get involved.”