Unified Sports receives first varsity letter

On Dec. 8, Alex Gutfleisch, senior, became the first Unified Sports athlete to receive a varsity letter. Gutfleisch, who has been part of Unified Sports for three years, was overjoyed to receive the letter and his excitement was evident. “The varsity letter means everything to me and I will cherish the jacket forever,” Gutfleisch said.

Lora Harney, one of Gutfleisch’s teachers, shares his excitement. “Alex being able to work hard with dedication and being able to receive the same award that general education students can achieve is incredible. It is hard to work towards a goal not knowing if you will even be considered to earn it,” Harney said.

Unified Sports is a program that provides opportunities for students with special needs to participate in a variety of athletic activities, and the teachers involved recognize its importance. “Students in special ed may get the message that they are not able to join in or to achieve the same things as general education students from the time they enter school,” Harney said.

As athletes progress through their years in high school, they work to obtain a coveted badge of honor: the varsity letter. “A varsity letter is awarded to any student that completes a varsity letter sport. A varsity letter is awarded to a student at the end of each season, usually at an awards banquet,” Stephen Lepire, principal, said.

Over the years, Unified Sports has seen considerable growth at NPHS. “Unified Sports started with just basketball against WHS, TOHS and Camarillo. It now has expanded into kickball and soccer,” Lepire said.

The awarding of this letter during NPHS’s Inclusivity Week marks another significant step toward building a welcoming community on campus. Fostering a sense of confidence and belonging for Unified Sports students is a critical goal for those involved, and general education students are encouraged to volunteer. During a normal school year, general and special education students practice the different sports together every Friday. “I am very pleased that many students at NPHS have embraced the Unified Sports program. The school district and surrounding districts [have done] a great job of embracing these awesome activities,” Lepire said.

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