File photo

Twin Lakes Unified Football head coach Kevin Anderson speaks with his team after its game last September against McCutcheon.

MONTICELLO – Twin Lakes’ Kevin Anderson didn’t need to be asked twice.

“There was no hesitation,” the school’s Unified football coach said. “I just jumped in and wanted to be involved and help them out.”

Anderson is talking about the Unified Sports Coaches Association of Indiana, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. He’s become a charter member of the organization, which helps young people with disabilities who do not often get a chance to play on their school sports teams.

The coaches take part in the Unified Sports of Indiana program, which is a collaboration between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics of Indiana.

“A lot of the other sports have a coaches association,” Anderson said. “We’ve talked about (a Unified Sports coaches association) for the last two years. We finally have it all put together.”

Unified sports consist of special and general education students working together on the athletic field or court of play. The principle behind it is getting special and general education students to train and play together, which may lead to more friendships and understanding. The goal is to show that participation in sports can break down social barriers and stereotypes.

Anderson is the head coach of Twin Lakes’ Unified flag football and track and field squads.

Twin Lakes has been a trailblazer in Unified sports, having sponsored a Unified track and field team since the 2013-14 school year. Unified flag football began at TL in 2019.

“Unified sports have been around here for a few years,” Anderson said.

Anderson is also a member of the Indiana Football Coaches Association; he’s an assistant coach for the Indians varsity football varsity team. As a member, he said Unified sports participants deserved the same recognition that the IFCA and other similar coaches’ associations dole out each season for its athletes.

“For the IFCA, we do awards for all-state teams, academic all-state and all that stuff. Unified is a varsity-level sport and they’re not getting any of that recognition,” he said. “That was one of the things I wanted to get involved with on the coaches association — get those kids some recognition.”

For his flag football team, Anderson said he gave out end-of-the-season awards – one of which was an academic award for the highest grade point average.

“I had four or five kids with an 11.5 or higher (on a 12-point scale) — and two of the five were in the special education program,” he said. “Academically, you look at their scores ... I mean, there’s no difference. Some of these kids go through four years of school with an almost-perfect A average — and play the sport. They should be academic all-state.

“There was no avenue for that. Now we have it.”

The new Unified Sports coaches association conducted its inaugural meeting Jan. 17. It’s first event will be Unified Track & Field Coaches’ Clinic on March 6, prior to the eighth IHSAA Unified Track and Field season that will conclude with its state championship June 5.

State championship trophies are the same as those awarded in other sports. State title events are also conducted at the same site as other sports.

Anderson said he is happy to be a small part of it.

“Being from Twin Lakes and representing the school and the kids is a neat thing,” he said.

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