A shower of gold glitter unveiled Marana High School’s new title: National Unified Champion School for the Special Olympics of Arizona. The title came on a new banner revealed at the high school’s pep rally last Friday, Dec. 1.

“Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools equip students with the necessary tools and training to create inclusive sports, classroom and community experiences that reduce bullying, promote healthy activities, combat stereotypes, eliminate hurtful language and improve the overall school climate,” Holly Thompson,  area director for Special Olympics Arizona announced at the school assembly. “Marana High School continues to excel in all these areas and this is why you have received this national recognition.”

The dozens of special education students at Marana High School kicked off the assembly by parading into the school gym holding a sign announcing their new title. They marched into the gym among applause and through a tunnel formed by cheerleaders and mascots. Thompson awarded a certificate to Brett Secemski, the school’s life skills teacher and Special Olympics coach.

“Give yourselves a round of applause and know you are leading the way for inclusion,” Thompson said.

A student pulled down a blue tarp from the wall, sparking a cloud of glitter to drop, and revealed the new banner. The students of MHS erupted into applause with the special education class in the middle of the whole spectacle.

“We invited Marana High School to apply for the award,” Thompson said, after the rally. “We identify requirements in state for inclusive schools and this was one of them.”

This is the first year the “champion schools” program is in effect, and so far less than 10 schools have been awarded this title. Alongside Marana High, Mountain View High School also won the award though a celebratory assembly is still being planned.

Special Olympics Arizona was started in 1975, and has grown from an organization of 100 athletes with 20 volunteers to what it is today: a hugely important non-profit with multiple statewide and regional competitions, dozens of sports programs, and over 22,000 athletes with almost as many volunteers. 

“It all worked out so well!” said Secemski, who’s been a Special Olympics coach at Marana High for four years. “It was very cool.”

Marana High’s Special Olympics team competes in bowling, basketball, cheerleading and track and field at both area and state-level events. Secemski believes MHS won the award both because of their awesome special olympics teams and because their school strives so hard to create and inclusive environment for disabled and nondisabled students to participate together.  

“The athletes we have are amazing,” Secemski said. “This is all geared toward them.”

As for future goals now that this milestone has been met, the class is planning a trip to Disneyland early next year.

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