North Pole High School honored by Special Olympics and ESPN

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 4:58 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - North Pole High School has been recognized as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School and an ESPN Honor Roll School.

They are the first school in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to be honored by either organization for their commitment to inclusion. “It means a ton because we’ve been working at this for years,” said Nita Kozie, the president of the schools Unified Club. The club works to ensure that everyone regardless of disabilities is able to partake in school activities including athletics. “They’re really great people,” said Cody Kowalski, a former club member and graduate of North Pole High School.

The Patriots will now join a list of 683 schools that have been honored for their commitment to inclusivity. They are among just 164 school to be honored with a banner this year. They will also join 8 other schools from Alaska that have already received a banner. The recognition from ESPN adds the school to an even smaller group of honorees with only 37 schools selected this year. The honor roll recognition has been in existence for five years now and only three other schools from Alaska have made the ESPN Honor Roll. Brenson Hardy, the Track and Field coach for the Patriots was incredibly moved by the recognition. “Wow, being honored by ESPN, Special Olympics, phenomenal. I was speechless when they told me about it. I’m like you’re kidding,” said Hardy.

In order for the Patriots to achieve this, they had to meet the 10 standards of excellence defined by Special Olympics. Much of this effort comes from the school’s Unified Club which works to bring general education and special needs students together in friendship and sports.

Hardy has also coached some of the unified athletes since he began his coaching career. He got involved after a pair of students told him that he could pair them with a unified athlete. After that, he was all in. “Watching these children get out there with their unified athlete partners and for 20, 30, 40 the long jump, in the high jump, in the 100 meter dash... as these children make their way down the track, there’s nothing like it and for 20 seconds, they’re just like everybody else.”

According to Special Olympics Alaska, the impacts of participating in these activities in an accepting and supportive environment have a profound impact on everyone involved. “It lets us know that we’re doing the right things and it shows these children that somebody, there’s somebody out there on a big stage that believes in them and I’m very grateful for that,” said Hardy, speaking about the platform that ESPN and Special Olympics provides for the children and staff involved.