Making a splash: Pennridge High School celebrates recognition for sports inclusion efforts

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This article was published on Bucks County Courier Times by Ashley R. Williams on May 3, 2021.

Normally, raining on someone’s parade is a surefire way to spoil an already overcast day.

That was far from the case for a group of energetic Pennridge High School students and staff, who couldn’t have been more eager to get drenched.

Led by school district Superintendent Dr. David Bolton, the first batch of cheering fundraisers raced with pride, fists pumping the air, toward the rush of water spouting down from Perkasie Fire Department’s Engine 26.

To celebrate Pennridge’s recognition for its inclusion efforts among students participating in sports and activities, 195 students, teachers and staff took part in Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s April Showers event Thursday that replaced the annual Polar Plunge.

“It was so much fun,” Pennridge senior Nick Politi, 18. “I’m super proud to be part of a program like this, it really means a lot to me. We have a great program going on here.” 

Politi and others who worked to raise more than $22,000 for SOPA basked in their victory by getting soaked. 

It wasn’t their only cause for celebration.

Last year, Pennridge High School became one of 10 schools in the state to receive SOPA’s National Banner Unified Champion School. 

To be considered a for the honor, an institution’s environment must be inclusive while promoting a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all students.

Pennridge offers a Unified Club as well as Unified track and field and indoor bocce teams that include both students with special needs and their classmates.

“It gives everyone an equal playing field, it gives students with and without disabilities a chance to come together and play on the same team,” said Ashley Herr, SOPA’s Unified Champion School manager for eastern Pennsylvania.

“They get to be equals, they’re peers, they’re friends, and the relationships that grow from that are what’s really important,” she said.

Prior to making a splash at the April Showers event, the school hosted a partially virtual ceremony to recognize Pennridge’s designation as a National Banner Unified Champion School.

“We as a high school are fortunate to have a Unified Sports program as a part of who we are, and the passion, commitment and the love that each of you bring to it, and therefore bring to us,” said Pennridge Principal Dr. Stephen Cashman to open the ceremony.

The school had to meet 10 national standards of inclusion to be recognized as a Unified Champion school.

Those include ensuring that students with and without disabilities have a role in planning and leading the awareness activities, and getting the student body involved in awareness and education activities that promote inclusion.

To continue qualifying for the designation, Herr says Pennridge will need to reapply every couple of years while continuing to meet the National Banner School criteria.