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Bellerose to host athletics jamboree

Hundreds to compete for fun, friendship
2105 MetroAthletics 8991 km
WELCOME SIGNS —Dylan Sims, left, and Declan Fawcett prepare welcome signs on May 18, 2022, to cheer on participants at the upcoming Metro Athletics Unified Jamboree at Bellerose. The event, an offshoot of Special Olympics, will see some 600 students and coaches compete in various sports. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Bean bags and bocce balls will fly next week as hundreds of athletic students gather at Bellerose for a Unified Sports championship.

About 600 students and coaches will be at Bellerose Composite May 31 for the third annual Metro Athletics Unified Jamboree. This will be the school’s first time as host for the event.

Unified Sports is a Special Olympics program that sees students with and without intellectual disabilities (referred to as athletes and partners, respectively) train and compete on the same team. Athletes play the games, while partners provide direction and peer support.

Students from about 20 Edmonton-area schools will play bocce, bean-bag toss, and three-on-three basketball during the jamboree, with some competing for medals and the coveted Metro Aggregate Unified banner.

Bellerose inclusive education teacher Jeet Jermana said Unified Sports has taken off at Bellerose, with some 50 students signed up to attend this year’s jamboree, compared to about eight two events ago. The event is set to be so popular this year that they actually have more partners than athletes to help.

Jermana encouraged guests to come to the jamboree to cheer on the students. Guests will also get to take part in demonstrations of adaptive CrossFit, chair yoga, and turbo javelin (javelin, except with a smaller, plastic projectile).

Athlete Declan Fawcett will play bocce for Team Bellerose during the event. Bocce is a sport where you try to bowl a large ball as close as you can to a smaller, target ball on a field, he explained.

“It’s almost like lawn bowling,” he said of the sport, adding that he hopes to bowl over the competition during the jamboree.

Everyone at Bellerose is talking about the jamboree, said Sydney Hodgson, who will be a partner in the basketball games during the jamboree.

“It really does bring everyone together.”

Empathy is the winner

Unified Sports is about inclusivity and building relationships, Jermana explained. Athletes get to represent their schools in a real tournament, and partners learn the importance of empathy. Many participants become life-long friends; he often sees students who take part in the sports giving each other high-fives or fist-bumps in the halls.

“I think it just helps build well-rounded teenagers,” Jermana said.

Dylan Sims, who will serve as a basketball partner at the jamboree, said he first met Fawcett through Unified Sports three years ago. The two became fast friends and now play sports in the school gym at lunch.

“Getting to play with Declan and seeing him smile and have fun makes me happy,” he said.

Fawcett said Unified Sports encouraged him to become a manager/assistant to five sports teams at Bellerose. He described the sport as a fun way to play games and make friends.

“You’re not treated as someone who has special needs. You get to hang out with people who are in the mainstream.”

Sims said it is important for kids of all abilities to have chances like this to get together as equals.

“I don’t think there should be that label of having special needs. Everyone should just be able to be kids and be friends in school.”

The jamboree runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit metroathletics.ca for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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