Montclair State University students have found plenty of ways to support their local communities while on campus but very few do it through sport quite like Unified Sports.
Established as a competitive club sport in 2011, the Unified Sports program is a student-run organization that brings together Montclair State students and Special Olympics athletes from the Montclair area.
Coordinator of Intramural and Club Sports in the Department of Campus Recreation Kyle Bianchi oversees all of the activities these programs do at Montclair State, including how the Unified Sports teams are grouped together.
“The first date that the Unified Sports members meet would be a skills evaluation,” Bianchi said. “[The Unified Sports executive board] would look to make the most balanced teams [possible] in terms of how well they are able to play each sport and play throughout the season.”
The program offers two different sports in which members can play. In the fall semester of the year, members play indoor soccer on Saturdays and Sundays, located in the Student Recreation Center’s basketball courts. The members are broken into four different teams that play five-on-five. Of the five, three are the Special Olympics athletes and the other two are Montclair State students. Their season runs all semester long until the end, where other colleges and universities with the same program come together and play for a state championship.
“Most of the schools in New Jersey have a Unified Sports program,” Bianchi said. “Rider [University] has a program, Princeton University has a program, The College of New Jersey, just to name a few.”
Bianchi said that the Unified Sports program at each school would run a playoff style tournament in order to decide which team would represent the school at the state championships.
“In some cases, if the university or institution has a problem with one team specifically to make it they would create an all-star team to represent them,” Bianchi said. “From there, they will compete at a state tournament, which is usually held at Princeton University, and whoever wins the state tournament will go on to represent their state at Nationals.”
During the spring semester of the year, the members of the Unified Sports program play basketball, which is also played at the Student Recreation Center’s basketball courts on Saturdays and Sundays. The team makeup is similar to that of the indoor soccer teams.
“We actually won States back in 2016 for basketball,” Bianchi said. “We went to the Ohio State University for the National Basketball Championship in that spring semester.”
While the games are heated and competitive, the real purpose of the program is to bring Montclair State students and the surrounding community together and to create equal opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities.
“The whole [idea] is to bring everyone together,” Bianchi said. “We have Montclair State students, we have advisers within the adaptive physical education program on campus and then we have a number of athletes that come out from the community.”
The program will meet again for indoor soccer at the Student Recreation Center on Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and Oct. 14 at 12 p.m.