Prairie earns rare Unified Sports Champion School designation

April 11, 2024

Unified banner in gym at Prairie High SchoolAt an assembly on March 29, Prairie High School unveiled their Special Olympics Unified Champion School banner, highlighting the school’s strong commitment to inclusion in athletics and other activities for all students with and without disabilities.

“Getting to work and bond with a team of students from all social backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and voices has been wildly rewarding across two years of both basketball and soccer,” said Aubrey Grier, a Prairie sophomore and Unified club president. “The initiative to create opportunities for students of all abilities is an experience not only exclusive to Unified, but also the source of so many of my favorite memories here at Prairie.”

“Becoming a National Unified Champion Banner school is a recognition of the amazing culture at Prairie, where everyone is celebrated for who they are,” added Principal Susannah Woehr. “It’s about belonging, in its truest sense.”

A Unified Champion School must demonstrate a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence. These include offering at least two Unified Sports throughout the school year, trained adult coaches, recognizing Unified teams during school events on the same level as other athletics, having student leadership opportunities for students with and without disabilities and ensuring a plan is in place to sustain all of these components.

Unified Sports coach Donna Eskelson-Smith said the program started with 12-15 students on a single team. Today, there are three teams with over 30 students participating.

Unified Sports students gather on the basketball court at Prairie High School“I really want people to know that the Unified program is for all students,” Eskelson-Smith said. “Building social inclusion for students with and without intellectual disabilities is the Falcon way!”

Prairie has built inclusion by setting up Unified team scrimmages at halftime of Falcon home games and by including the team in school-wide events such as Falcon Forest and Trunk or Treat during Halloween.

“When our staff show up for our kids, that is where the magic happens,” Woehr said. “The Unified program at PHS brings pride, a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence to the students who are involved.”

Prairie High School was one of just four schools in Washington to earn the Unified Champion school recognition this year. They join Skyview High School as the only Southwest Washington schools to currently hold the full honor.

“Prairie’s student body has had a sense of inclusion since I started here 10 years ago,” said Prairie Athletic Director Stephanie Watts. “Unified Sports has been able to bring that into practice and give a real-life experience for our kids to be a part of something bigger. Coach Donna has done such a great job of building the program and bringing the kids and the community together.”

Unified Champion School applications are reviewed in two stages, first by state Special Olympics program staff and then a national certifying body of educational leaders from across the country. Schools must reapply for banner status every four years. Visit the Special Olympics website to learn more about the award and the process.


icon 11311 NE 119th Street
Vancouver, WA 98662

icon Mail: P.O. Box 200
Battle Ground, WA 98604