North High earns national champion status
North Fort Myers High School has been named one of the elites in the nation on the field of play.
The school, in just its second year of offering the program for boys and girls, including those with special needs, was named as a National Banner Unified Champion School through Special Olympics.
On Monday, a banner was unfurled in the gymnasium to designate that honor, along with all the other banners for district and regional championships the school has won over the years.
North and Cypress Lake High School are the only two schools in Lee County to earn the designation. Only 24 schools in Florida and 173 nationwide are named a champion school.
Principal Debbie Diggs said she was beyond excited to be recognized in just its second year.
“North has had a long tradition of inclusivity in academics and athletics. Our kids embrace the concept and are going out with and without disabilities,” Diggs said. “For us to be named among the 22 other schools in Florida is an honor.”
For Diggs, it means a little more, as she has a son, Christian, who has special needs. Christian has excelled in the shot put in track and field and also plays basketball and bowling.
“I feel awesome. I did bowling and track and basketball and made it to states. I feel fantastic,” Christian said. “I like basketball because of the teamwork.”
Brandon Lovette said he likes how when people fall, his teammates pick them back up.
“I like basketball because I can score points and make layups, and I like bowling because I get a lot of strikes,” Lovette said.
Special Olympians in unified sports are considered athletes, while their general population teammate is called a partner.
Unified sports bring together special needs students and those in the general population, allowing special needs students the opportunity to compete and take part in activities they ordinarily would not.
For students like Kurt Sherman and Matthew Barnett, who are partners, unified sports give them a sense of well-being.
“I like how we’re a championship school and its an honor to be a part of it,” Sherman said. “I can’t explain how it feels. You have to do it to feel it.”
“I think this will bring attention to the Special Olympics. The kids don’t get to experience the limelight of sports, so it’s a great opportunity,” Barnett said. “It’s all about the kids and seeing them score and their eye slight up, that’s what it’s about.
It has been a busy time for the North team. Brooke Pasquale, coach of the basketball team, took the squad to Orlando for a basketball tournament, where they split four games. This weekend, the team is going to participate in the state bowling tournament.
“These kids get to do things outside of school where they wouldn’t be able to. They gain friends with the general students and they’re a real team,” Pasquale said. “It’s great to coach these kids because it’s good to watch them participate with their own team. This championship is great for this school.”