A few years ago, Kim Kaczmarek, Sleepy Hollow High School’s Special Education teacher and Pioneer team coach, began a program to get her students more involved in athletics within the school. Back then, no-one predicted the huge positive force that this program would become.
Kaczmarek’s Pioneer Team is a group of her special education students, along with other student interns (unified partners) from the high school, who play various sports together nearly every day. Kaczmarek also helps organize the regional Special Olympics, a community wide event in which disabled athletes from all over the Hudson Valley come to compete together, with huge crowds of supporters watching. Thanks to this success students from Kaczmarek’s Pioneer Team were invited to the Special Olympics World Games this summer in Los Angeles.
Sleepy Hollow’s team, which played in the Olympics basketball events, was a combination team of students from Sleepy Hollow and Brewster, with both athletes and unified partners. From Sleepy, the participating athletes were Felix Veloz and Min Li, along with unified partners Hunter Burnett and Brendan Murphy. From Brewster, the athletes were Tim Schneider, Stephen Booth, and Kevin Green, accompanied by partners John Ashley, Jagger Ashley, and Yash Patel. The team has been working tirelessly for the past year to prepare for the World Games, which had athletes from 170 countries. Their hard work paid off when they went unbeaten through the tournament and took home the gold medal in basketball.
But to the team and coaches, the glory does not lie only in their awards received. The athletes and interns had a chance to compete in a world stage of athletics, where they represented Sleepy Hollow and the United States with pride and integrity, and showcased the inclusion that our community works hard to inspire and protect.
“They are all so bonded now, that they don’t want the team to dismantle,” said Kaczmarek, who refers to her unified team, the Special Olympics USA NY Unified Basketball team, as a family.
The Special Olympics World Games is the pinnacle of the Special Olympic movement Many residents of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown became familiar with this program thanks to the regional Special Olympics events, which were hosted by Sleepy Hollow in 2013 and 2014. The Special Olympic celebrates athletes and athletic performance for those who may suffer a mental or physical disability. The Pioneer Team at Sleepy Hollow is one of the most successful teams in the area, and it has gained enormous recognition over the years—with support from the high school student body—a support rivaling that of the football or soccer team. It’s a program that promotes equal opportunity to any student who is willing to put in the effort, and encourages school-wide inclusion with the intern program that has drawn dozens of volunteers over the last few years.
“The games included athletes from 170 countries, some of whom may be in conflict in the outside world, but at the World Games everyone gets along, no matter what,” Kaczmarek said. “Politics doesn’t matter. I wish the world could be like this!”