Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that combines special needs athletes and peer-partners on teams for training and competition. Pack the Gym is an event created in 2011 in the Puyallup School District to honor student athletes with special needs. The event was started by John Anderson, Puyallup High School unified basketball coach.
Pack the Gym is an opportunity for students and the community to make the special needs students the stars. These students attend high school games and events supporting other athletes, now they are the ones receiving the support.
Students in the Puyallup School District show an outstanding level of support at Pack the Gym nights. The high schools’ bands and cheerleaders come play and cheer in support of their peers. Each of the high schools have two unified teams. The unified teams are typically made up of at least six special needs athletes and four peer-partners.
Originally the unified teams would participate in two practices a week culminating in a competition at the regional level to qualify for state. Now teams practice at least once a week from mid-December through March, then beginning in January the unified teams play at different high schools each week.
When asked what his favorite part about the event, Anderson stated “It’s amazing to see how this event can bring the students together, especially the relationship the peer-partners develop with the special needs students,” he went on to say “You can see the students high fiving each other in the halls, or sitting together at lunch. It really develops rounded character in those peer partners to have that experience”
Pack the Gym caught on at neighboring districts who now participate in the event. Other schools in the league include White River High School, Enumclaw High School, North Thurston High School, and Foss High School.
The Puyallup High School Vikings won the Silver Medal in the High School Unified Division at the Special Olympics of Washington State Winter Games in Wenatchee last year. The Rogers High School Unified team won SW District Champions (8-0).