Unified soccer gives opportunity to Riverton student-athletesJun 14, 2021 11:15AM ● By Julie Slama
Riverton High coach Alexis Brown was glad to bring her team to the Salt Lake regional tournament to give them the opportunity to play unified soccer. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
One of Riverton High senior Abeiku Snow’s favorite things to do is to play soccer with his teammate Cooper Hodgson.
The two, who went through elementary and middle school together, put on the Silverwolves jerseys at the co-ed Salt Lake area regional tournament — the first time they have participated in unified sports.
“I was excited,” Snow said. “I want to help my team out. I’m happy when I’m running the field.”
The student-athlete who moved from Ghana 10 years ago, frequently played soccer at the orphanage before he moved to Utah.
“He plays a lot; there’s always a soccer game in our yard,” his mother, Aimee said.
Snow’s next favorite thing is to “cheer for other people. It’s the nice thing to do.”
Hodgson, who is a junior and was excited that he scored a goal early in the day, also played goalkeeper.
“It’s my first time playing soccer for the school,” he said. “It’s good. Every time I play, I look up and get excited to see my family here.”
Hodgson had 12 family members in the stands, who, along with many other Riverton families were there supporting their team.
The Riverton team was coached by Alexis Brown, who also was thrilled to see her team had the most fans at the tournament.
“We had parents on board, lots of grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings and everyone came out with signs and posters – it was so great,” she said.
Brown, who had a brother participate in unified sports and who herself became a partner when she was in high school, wanted to allow her athletes the chance to participate in the program.
“We haven’t had it in recent years, so this is the first opportunity these students are having to participate,” she said. “I want them to have this experience, to be a part of this program and experience this part of high school.”
With nine student-athletes, and partners to help them on the field, she held three practices before the tournament. While some were familiar with the sport, Brown, who herself played competitively up until high school, had to teach the basics to others.
“We had some who tried to stop the ball with their hands and others who just kicked the ball hard, so we had to learn ‘no hands’ and how to dribble,” she said. “But the biggest goal I had was to let them have fun and to build a community. They worked together and built school spirit. They’re happy to be a Riverton Silverwolf. They cheered for each other – some of them were screaming for their teammates who I’ve never heard before. They’re definitely closer, talking more in the hallways and those at school who didn’t play are now wishing they did.”
That is something that Courtnie Worthen, Unified Champion Schools manager who oversees the unified sports program, appreciates.
“We hope this helps to create lasting friendships, where they see each other in the hallways and say hi, eat together at lunch and have fun,” she said. “This helps to build camaraderie. I’d love to host unified dances or see clubs that help build leadership with the students and their peers.”
While those on the field had to follow the safety and health precautions as other high school teams, the tournament was set up regionally to reduce travel and have less teams playing at a site to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, Worthen said.
Before the end of the school year, the Silverwolves were to have another opportunity to shine at the unified track and field meet slated for mid-May.
Next year, unified soccer in Utah will become a fall sport, allowing year-round unified sports, with basketball in the winter and track in the spring.