When the U.S. Education Department told schools earlier this month that students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on traditional sports teams — or have their own leagues — I wondered what this new Title IX interpretation meant locally.
In the 30-plus years I’ve been around local athletics, I’ve marveled at the inclusion into existing athletics that kids with special needs have received.
I asked around, talking to Davis schools trustee Sheila Allen, Blue Devil Athletic Director Dennis Foster, Team Davis’ Robin Dewey and a couple of parents of athletes who might be considered subjects under the recent DOE edict.
Consensus? All’s well locally.
It’s no secret that our community has no shortage of opportunities to get involved in sports …
From T-ball and gymnastics for 4-year-olds to mega teams in public schools to youth club organizations to adult recreation programs ranging from soccer and basketball to softball and tennis, there is something for everybody. But are these athletic avenues truly for everbody?
Again, the findings are remarkably positive.
Allen says public schools have been ultra-responsive to the special-needs students and credits parents, administrators and coaches working together to place those challenged athletes on Blue Devil teams.
Team Davis President Dewey concurs, citing that many of her organization’s school-aged athletes are plugged into mainstream teams at DHS.
“We are aware of several of our high school (kids) who participate in track, swimming, cross country and one even in football,” Dewey told me. “Many junior high students also participate in sports.”
Nonetheless, Dewey’s group is interested in having Team Davis — which locally serves about 150 adult and youth athletes — more formally partner with the Davis Joint Unified School District “to support the (schools’) effort to include students with disabilities in all sports within the guidelines set by the Department of Education.”
Dewey says, if asked, Team Davis officials are available to serve in an advisory capacity.
But the brilliance/good fortunate of having a group like Team Davis in town is that it takes the pressure off of our schools in having to reinvent avenues for those special athletes to play sports.
Team Davis provides social, athletic, cultural and recreational activities that, according to its website (www.team-davis.org) “help build physical skills, a sense of camaraderie and a more fully integrated connection with the Davis community for our participants and their families and support staff.”
Foster and Allen understand this, tipping their caps toward Team Davis, but also give DHS coaches like track mentor Spencer Elliott, long-distance teacher Bill Gregg and football coach Steve Smyte (who is a special-education teacher in Devil Nation) credit for doing, as Allen say, “the right thing without being asked.”
Dewey says Team Davis has 26 junior high- and high school-age participants from our community. There are another 15 elementary schoolers and seven under-22 adults who are still under DJUSD jurisdiction.
“We also have many … participants from Woodland and other areas,” Dewey adds.
Even though the local district and Team Davis hasn’t had direct partnerships over the years, there have been a handful of joint ventures.
Dewey points to DHS girls tennis coach Sally Hosley, special ed instructor Mike Inchausti, Holmes health teacher Pam Eimers and DaVinci art teacher Seana Burke for coordinating programs that have enriched special-need kids’ lives in myriad ways.
UC Davis Campus Recreation Director Laura Hall plugs in with Holmes PE teacher Paul Rooney to coach bocce ball and another district special ed instructor — Cindy True, also of Holmes — coordinates that massive volunteer cadre that has given countless opportunities.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the nation’s educators that Title IX — which was the catalyst 40 years ago in leveling the playing field for girls and women — ensures “disabled students who want to play for their schools (can) join traditional teams if officials can make reasonable modifications to accommodate them.”
It didn’t surprise me to know that Davis schools — with a lot of help from Team Davis — had this covered long ago.
Like trustee Allen says: “Nobody had to tell us to do it.”
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.