UNION, NJ - Township of Union students celebrated Disabilities Awareness week with the Unified Field Day Event held at Union High School on Friday.

Students and staff from Jefferson Elementary School, Kawameeh and Burnet Middle Schools, as well as Union High School gathered together for the culminating event after a weeklong series of festivities.

Special Olympics Play Unify is an education-based program that uses sports and education initiatives of Special Olympics to activate youth to promote school communities where all young people are agents of change—fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.

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The main event was the Unified Field Day. Over 250 students were on hand, with volunteers from the UHS Key Club and JROTC.  Events included Spoon Races, Water Balloon Toss, Bean Bag Toss, Football Throw, Relay Races and more.  Special guests included former New York Giant Rich Sebuert and former Pittsburg Steeler and UHS Alumni Darnel Stapleton.

Union High School alumni Caitlin Goerlich addressed the crowd about living with a disability and the importance of Play Unify. Members of the Union Board of Education, Union Township Committee, NJEA, Union Police Department and the Union County Sheriff’s Office were also in attendance.

“Union's Unified Field Day is growing every single year,” said event organizer Diana Pielech.  “It is important that the Township of Union continue to spread awareness and promote the importance of inclusion through sports. The Play Unified Grant has helped to spread awareness throughout our schools and communities. I have seen the positive impact it has had on my school and I am honored to be a part of this grant and program.  I have seen the changes within the students as well as the opportunities it has provided students with and without disabilities. Union hopes to create unified athletic teams that can participate at both the middle school and high school level, giving all students the opportunities to participate in sports.”

Leading up to the Unified Field Day, each school held their own pep rally to kick off the week featuring guest speakers including Sergeant Boll and Detective Cavallo from the Union Police Department and Operation Rebound, Bobby Fredericks from Special Olympics, UHS Alumni Michael DeNicolo and Milan Patel, and Brandon Holiday and his dog Dyson, also from Operation Rebound.

Special presentations were also put together including a video at Burnet Middle School featuring one of their students Shaniya Samuels. The video was seen by the entire school, and featured a day in the life of Shaniya, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Shaniya’s message “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a message she proudly shared with her classmates, reminding everyone to not let anything slow them down. The video can be seen by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VOqLbgLSYw&feature=share.

Lyzel Fearon, a 5th grader at Jefferson School, presented a special poem that he wrote reminding people to not use the “R” (retarded/retard) word. Schools also participated in “Respect Week”-themed dress up days with the purpose of uniting students with the message, “we are all different, but the same.”