DUNLAP, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — It looked like a volleyball game and it was.
But it was a special one. A special game for area high school students with special needs.
High school volleyball players turned into cheerleaders, cheering for a Unified P.E. volleyball game between Dunlap and Limestone High Schools.
Special needs students paired with peers in their school’s student body as part of a “Best Buddies” program. The Unified P.E. athletes got a chance to play a game in front of a gym full of fans.
“I’m very excited to play volleyball,” said Dunlap sophomore Rachel Lamb, a player in the game. “It’s nice to play volleyball.”
Unified P.E. teams in central Illinois have played other sports, most notably basketball, on a big stage. But last week’s game at Dunlap is believed to be the first time any school has tried a volleyball match between Unified P.E. teams.
Dunlap hosted the first match on Oct. 4. A night later, Limestone hosted Washington in another volleyball match between Unified P.E. teams.
“This year we talked about Mid-Illini teams and we came up with doing more activities in the Mid-Illini to allow kids to have this opportunity to play basketball, volleyball, whatever we could come up with,” said Dunlap Unified P.E. teacher Krysten Wallace. “We are about inclusion and giving them opportunities.”
The schools hope the success of the first round of Unified P.E. volleyball games opens the door for more schools to follow their lead.
“I love it so much,” said Dunlap junior Ashley Freundt, one of the student peers paired with Unified P.E. athletes. “It makes my day every day to talk to them. And when we do stuff like this, it feels so huge because it’s the first year doing it.”