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About the Program

Unified Sports® is a registered program of Special Olympics that combines athletes with and without intellectual disability (or other developmental delays) on sports teams for training and competition. All Unified Sports® teammates are of similar age and teams are placed in competitive divisions based on their skill abilities, and range from developmental to recreational to competitive.

In 1992, as part of an effort to reach school-aged athletes, Connecticut Special Olympics formed a partnership with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference to bring Unified Sports® to Connecticut’s schools. The CIAC/Special Olympics Unified Sports® Program operates throughout the school year and closely follows the school calendar. Unified Sports® events are organized each sport season for middle and high school students (soccer, basketball, volleyball, bowling, track and field) and in culminating events for elementary and young athlete participants.


All public and parochial schools in Connecticut are invited to participate. Today 95% of Connecticut’s public high schools offer Unified Sports programs.

Youth Athlete & Elementary Programs

The Young Athlete and Elementary Programs include students with and without disabilities with a focus on gross motor development and social inclusion. Students engage in non-competitive athletic activities designed to develop skills in a variety of sports. These programs end with a culminating activity at the local or regional level.

The CIAC / SOCT Model

The CIAC/SOCT Unified Sports model includes a youth leadership component with a focus on inclusion and positive school climate initiatives such as the R-Word Campaigns, Fans in the Stands, and Unified Clubs. Each year the CIAC/SOCT program hosts a Youth Leadership Summit to help schools develop their programs. 

CIAC & Special Olympics

The partnership between CIAC and Special Olympics Connecticut continues to have a dramatic impact on the number of school age children who have the opportunity to participate in organized team sports. The program currently boasts a participation of more than 9500 athletes and partners, and 287 schools throughout the state.

Unified Sports Leader Awards

The SWC Unified Sports One Athlete-One Partner Leadership Awards have been presented since 2016 to students from SWC member schools who have demonstrated commitment, dedication and service to Unified Sports and Activities at their school, in their community and in the South-West Conference.

The CIAC/Special Olympics Unified Sports® Program provides a forum for positive social interaction between intellectually disabled and non-disabled students. As Unified® teammates train and compete together they foster ties that develop into friendships both on and off the athletic field.

Participation in Unified Sports® leads to new friendships, improved self-esteem and positive changes in attitude, behavior, and performance.

The CIAC/Special Olympics Unified Sports® Program helps to foster an inclusive school community where the values of tolerance, patience and sensitivity are cornerstones.

Youth Basketball Game

The State Department of Education has a commitment to enhance and promote the integration of special education students in their local schools as well as increase their participation in their local communities. CIAC has demonstrated its commitment to this mission through its recognition of the need for this type of activity in Unified Sports®.

Vincent Ferrandino

Former Commissioner of Education

At the Special Olympics Unified Sports® Volleyball Tournament at John Winthrop Junior High School, I could see and feel the enthusiasm from both Athletes and Partners. It was thrilling. It represented a terrific example of the collaborative model in action, with everybody willingly helping each other for the sheer joy of the experience.

John Proctor

Superintendent, Region #4

There was a significant increase in the skill level of the Special Athletes; and, what an excellent opportunity for growth for Special Partners. Partners noticed how good they felt to help and felt a new understanding for their peers with special needs. The Unified Sports® events I have participated in have been among the most rewarding experiences in my 21-year career in education.

Kevin O'Donnell

Unified Sports Coach

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