West Windsor, N.J. – While there’s been lots of focus on the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s and women’s soccer teams this fall, there has been another soccer group on campus that has held practices every Friday since September. Nine MCCC Education students have been partnering with DREAM (Developing Real Expectations for Achieving Mastery) students at the Mercer Soccer Stadium to get exercise, have fun and build friendships.
Unified Sports, as it is known, is an international program established by Special Olympics. Several other New Jersey colleges participate in the program and when MCCC Athletics Director John Simone heard about it, he was eager to sign on in partnership with Professor Theresa Capra, Coordinator of the MCCC Education program, and Susan Onaitis, who coordinates the DREAM program.
According to the Special Olympics website, Unified Sports is about bringing people together, with the goal of breaking down stereotypes about those with intellectual disabilities. The program has half a million participants worldwide.
Doug Johnson, Coordinator for Unified Sports at Mercer, says his objective is for the students to have meaningful interactions that make a difference for all of them. “I want everyone to have a good time and to develop friendships,” Johnson said.
He reports that the program has been well-received since it began at Mercer in September. “Attendance has been close to 100 percent. We have two brothers from England who participate in the DREAM program and they are good soccer players. They have outplayed some of our Education students – while giving each other a hard time, as brothers will do.” Johnson added that all the students are learning from each other.
Shaun Woolf, one of the two British brothers, says soccer has been a great addition to his week. “The Education students are good partners and it’s great to do something outside the classroom.”
Education major Michelle Leto says she looks forward to participating every week. And Andrew Kishyk, who has been involved since the start, says it aligns perfectly with his goal to be a Special Education teacher. “It’s helping me learn how to interact and teach people with disabilities. I love it.”
The program is expected to move to the Mercer gymnasium when the weather gets cold, with basketball, volleyball, and possibly indoor soccer planned for the winter.
“We will base our winter sports on what the students want to do. We also hope to see the program grow so that we can compete with teams from other schools and compete in multiple sports,” Johnson said.