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A team from Shawnee Mission South could win the first-ever Kansas state title in Unified Bowling

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Courtesy photo
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Shawnee Mission South Personal Life Skills Instagram
Shawnee Mission South's Unified Bowling team has players with and without intellectual disabilities. School leaders say the Kansas State High School Activities Association's decision to add Unified Bowling to its sports roster is paving the way for inclusion.

Shawnee Mission South leaders say Unified Bowling becoming a state sanctioned sport is paving the way for inclusion.

Shawnee Mission South High School officials and parents say the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s decision to add Unified Bowling to its roster of sports this year is paving the way for inclusion.

Unified Sports, as defined by the Special Olympics, involve teams that have both players with and without intellectual disabilities.

In recent years, the Special Olympics says thousands of K-12 schools have started Unified Sports teams, along with hundreds of colleges and universities.

John Johnson, Shawnee Mission South's athletic director, played a key role in working with the Special Olympics to get Unified Bowling approved as a championship-level sport by KSHSAA.

Johnson said other states have already sanctioned Unified Bowling as a competitive sport, making it a clear choice for Kansas to focus on without “reinventing the wheel”.

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Courtesy Photo
Shawnee Mission South is just one of 31 schools across the state with a Unified Bowling team that will participate in this year’s state championship. Above, a Shawnee Mission South Unified Bowling match.

There have been student-athletes with disabilities in Shawnee Mission South’s history, but Johnson said they’re far and few between.

Now, there are 31 schools statewide that will compete in the Unified Bowling state championship this year, which will be hosted by Shawnee Mission South at Mission Bowl in Olathe on Nov. 18.

“It’s a sense of normalcy for a group of people and teachers and kids and parents and others who don’t normally, necessarily, feel that,” Johnson said. “It’s awesome, and the kids just gravitate to it — able-bodied and special education kids.”

Students like Mike Dugan’s daughter Libby, a sophomore, love being on Shawnee Mission South’s Unified Bowling team.

Dugan said Libby, who has a genetic chromosomal issue called Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, is a very social person.

Dugan said KSHSAA’s approval means a lot to his family because Libby is happiest when “she’s moving and shaking.”

“Honestly, there isn’t normally a lot of activities like this, especially through school for someone with special needs to get involved with,” Dugan said. “But since we’ve gotten to high school, it’s unbelievable really what Shawnee Mission South — and I’m sure other Shawnee Mission schools, too — do for us.”

Shawnee Mission South’s larger efforts

Sara Simpson, a special education teacher and Unified Bowling coach at Shawnee Mission South, said the KSHSAA approval is validating.

Up until now, all the Unified Sports at Shawnee Mission South have been the equivalent of recreational sports, Simpson said, similar to clubs that meet outside of school. Shawnee Mission South also has Unified Basketball, Bocce and Soccer teams, though those sports are not recognized by KSHSAA.

Now, Unified Bowling’s primary purpose is competition, Simpson said.

Simpson said Unified Bowling, like all Unified Sports the school offers, is another layer in Shawnee Mission South’s efforts to normalize disabilities — such as the personal life skills club for students with intellectual disabilities.

Shawnee Mission South’s efforts recently got the school national recognition and placed on the Special Olympics’ ESPN 2021 Honor Roll alongside 25 other schools.

“Our hope is that by educating students while they’re still in high school to not be intimidated or uncomfortable around people with disabilities is that they’ll carry that with them for the rest of their lives,” Simpson said.

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