Champions Together Celebrates Eight Years by Honoring Founding Schools
In recognition of the eighth anniversary of Champions Together, Special Olympics Indiana is replacing the Inclusion Revolution banners for 12 Indiana schools with the new Unified Champion School banners that acknowledge them as “founding members” in appreciation of their long-standing commitment to the Inclusion Revolution. Schools receiving new banners include: Boonville, Brebeuf, Carmel, Danville Community, Fishers, Guerin Catholic, Harrison (WL), Lowell, Mooresville, Plainfield, Tri-West Hendricks, and West Lafayette.
It began in the summer of 2012 when then-Commissioner Bobby Cox challenged the 18 members of the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Student Advisory Committee (SAC) to give back to their communities and schools. He pointed out that without that support, high school sports could not exist. Then he asked the simple question, “What are YOU giving back?” The silence in the room was deafening. Commissioner Cox then said, “Then as leaders, you need to find a way for every IHSAA student athlete in the state to learn how to become a servant leader.”
The juniors and seniors on the SAC spent the fall planning a response to that challenge, and in November the officers of the group presented a plan to the IHSAA Board of Directors to establish a student-led partnership with Special Olympics Indiana. After receiving unanimous approval, the officers set up a meeting with SOIN leaders including then-CEO Mike Furnish and current CEO Jeff Mohler. The concept was eagerly accepted by the two former standout IHSAA athletes (who also continued their IHSAA involvement as adults by becoming IHSAA licensed officials), and plans were made for a joint announcement of this new partnership that the students suggested be named “Champions Together.”
A joint press conference was held on December 12, 2012 to announce and celebrate the new partnership between arguably the two most respected sports organizations in Indiana. The students on the SAC spent the spring testing initiatives in their own schools that emphasized inclusion, respect, philanthropy, and Unified Sports. They then devised a plan to roll out to the 412 IHSAA member high schools that included recognizing schools doing exemplary work in the “Inclusion Revolution” with a banner for their gym.
To earn the banner, a school had to have 1) an inclusive student-led team of leaders, 2) that planned and organized an inclusive event involving the entire school, 3) that participated in a Unified Sports activity and 4) that raised a minimum of $1,500 to donate to SOIN in order to sustain the program. But the goal of the banner award program was not just a one-year achievement; rather, the aim was to convince IHSAA student leaders across the state to make inclusion a part of the culture of their school every year.
The plan was rolled out to the schools at the 2013 IHSAA Student Leadership Conference. More than 1,000 student leaders were introduced for the first time to Champions Together, Unified Sports, the Inclusion Revolution and the new banner program.
The SAC continued to carry the message to student leaders throughout the fall at the annual regional meetings held in conjunction with meetings for principals and athletic administrators. The SAC members not only initiated Champions Together programs in their own schools, but they encouraged, and sometimes challenged, rival schools in their conferences to do the same. By the end of school year 2013-14 there were scores of schools that had initiated Champions Together activities, and 24 schools had accomplished all four of the requirements for earning a banner proclaiming them as leaders in the #InclusionRevolution.
Also, in 2013-14, SOIN received a substantial federal Department of Education (DOE) grant to assist in funding the partnership. The grant was awarded by Special Olympics North America (SONA), and it brought about a change in branding in 2014-15 which included calling our banner schools “Unified Champion Schools.” The banners that year replaced Inclusion Revolution with the designation “Unified Champion School” and added branding to acknowledge both SONA and the US DOE.
Those same banners have been used every year since. There are now a total of 155 banners proudly displayed in IHSAA member schools gyms. Of the original group of 24 banner winners, 12 of them have earned the banner EVERY year. They not only took on more work and a new program in the name of the Inclusion Revolution, they truly made it part of their culture by accomplishing all four requirements every year.
Congratulations to these founding member schools for their continued support in making their schools an inclusive experience for ALL students!