When I was principal at Coon Rapids High School I made it a point to stop in to watch the competitions involving our adapted sports teams. Walking into the gym always put a smile on my face because the Coon Rapids kids recognized me and were excited that I was there. Afterwards, they would seek me out in the halls to talk about how the game went.
Their parents and family members were there to cheer them on, proud to see their kids enjoying a spirited competition and doing their best to win. And win they do.
Adapted sports give students with physical or cognitive impairments an opportunity to join with their peers in a team activity that is as valuable for them as sports are for our other teams. Although the students on an adapted sports team come from each of our high schools, they unite as one, the Anoka-Hennepin Mustangs. They are able to build friendships with students across the school district who are in similar circumstances. When a student in a wheelchair sees other students who use wheelchairs, there’s the feeling of “I am not the only one in a wheelchair and we’re going to use them to compete!” They also have an opportunity to get the sense of playing a role in something that is bigger than each of them as individuals. Team activities provide that important experience for students.
In January, the U.S. Department of Education directed all school districts offering athletic programs and receiving federal funding to accommodate or adapt for students with disabilities. School districts across the nation are now scrambling to learn more about the new requirement and what they must do to comply. Locally school districts are doing the same, but we are in a much more positive position than most other states.
Way back in 1984, a number of area school districts created the Minnesota Adapted Athletic Association(MAAA). The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) held the first tournaments for adapted sports in 1993. There are now four sports available for students with disabilities including indoor soccer, floor hockey, indoor softball, and bowling.
Minnesota schools are in the forefront for creating such opportunities. They see the value it provides our young people. Minnesota schools enthusiastically support all MAAA programs. Despite such positive strides, challenges still exist. In many cases, districts combine athletes to create the numbers needed for a sporting activity to take place. Doing so is much easier in the Twin Cities than in rural Minnesota. The MAAA and its participating districts are currently trying to find ways for these rural districts to create teams and participate.
Since January’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education, Anoka-Hennepin has completed its winter floor hockey season. March 16, I attended the final day of the Minnesota State High School League’s state adaptive floor hockey tournament. As has been the case for a number of years, the event was hosted by Bloomington Jefferson High School. Teams from Anoka-Hennepin not only qualified for their tournament, but also competed very well on their big day. Other area teams from Fridley, Centennial, Circle Pines, Columbia Heights, Spring Lake Park and Osseo school districts competed as well.
The spring season will bring indoor softball. Home games for Anoka-Hennepin’s Mustangs are played at the Andover Community Center. The state tournament for indoor softball will be held at Coon Rapids High School later this spring. Please consider attending an adaptive game supporting any school or team, I am confident you will come away seeing the value of these programs. Schedules are available at: http://www.maaaconference.org
Jeff McGonigal is an associate superintendent with the Anoka-Hennepin School District.