SRU honored as a National Banner Unified Champion School by Special Olympics


Bocce team practice

Slippery Rock University was recognized by Special Olympics International as a National Banner Unified Champion Schools for the University’s support of unified sports programs such as the interscholastic bocce teams at more than 13 local high schools.

Sept. 10, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Special Olympics International has selected Slippery Rock University to its list of National Banner Unified Champion Schools. SRU is the first college or university in Pennsylvania to earn this designation, which honors middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities for having "inclusive school climate and exuding a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of their communities."

Leight headshot


SRU is one of only 518 schools in the country to earn this four-year renewable recognition, and joins the University of Minnesota, Texas Tech University and the University of South Dakota as the only colleges to earn Unified Champion School status this year.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment for SRU and our adapted physical activity program," said Joanne Leight, professor of physical and health education and department chair. "We work very closely with Special Olympics Pennsylvania to offer a wide variety of programs where SRU students gain experience serving the community and working in conjunction with Special Olympics athletes and staff. This recognition is a validation of their hard work and we're excited to continue offering programs as a Unified Champion School."

In order to be honored as a National Banner Unified Champion School, a school must demonstrate commitment to inclusion by meeting Special Olympics' 10 standards of excellence. They include areas related to inclusive youth leadership, whole school engagement, sustainability and supporting Special Olympics Unified Sports, which are fully inclusive sports or fitness programs that combine an approximately equal number of students with and without intellectual disabilities.

SRU's Physical and Health Education Department has helped establish more than 13 bocce teams at high schools in Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties through a partnership with Special Olympics Pennsylvania with funding from its Interscholastic Unified Sports program. SRU graduate students in the adapted physical activity program and undergraduate health and physical education majors serve as volunteer coaches and SRU hosts the regional tournament where teams qualify for the state unified bocce championship in Hershey.

Special Olympics logo

"It is a challenge to meet all 10 standards of excellence, but we have an amazing group of individuals who are willing to put in extra hours to provide quality programs for our students as well as Special Olympic athletes," said Jillian Stringfellow, SRU project coordinator in the Physical and Health Education Department and Special Olympics program coordinator. "It's been gratifying to see our programs grow and it's great for the University and our students to be selected among the best in the country."

In addition to supported local unified bocce programs, SRU's Special Olympics programs and student organizations include the following:

  • Unified Fitness, a program where more than 20 Special Olympics athletes train at the University with nearly 40 SRU students.
  • Youth Leadership Summit, an event hosted by APA graduate students where high school students with or without disabilities learn how to promote interscholastic unified sports at their schools.
  • Young Athletes, a program that introduces basic sports skills to children ages 2-7 with and without disabilities.
  • Special Olympics Coaching certifications for SRU students to volunteer with any sport offered by Butler County Special Olympics.
  • Unified intramurals, where SRU students and Special Olympics-qualifying athletes compete in sports unified soccer and unified kickball through Campus Recreation's intramural program.
  • Special Olympics Pennsylvania Western Fall Sectionals, an event hosted by SRU where more than 350 people from the SRU community volunteer to support more than 600 Special Olympics athletes, coaches and chaperones competing to advance in to state competition.
  • Polar Plunge, a fundraising event for Special Olympics PA each November when SRU students and local Special Olympics athletes travel to Erie.
  • Spread the Word, a campus-wide campaign to support inclusion
  • Rock U, a student organization at SRU that promotes inclusion and increase student awareness about the opportunities at the University for individuals with disabilities.

For more information about the National Banner Unified Champion School program, including a list of schools selected this year, visit the Special Olympics International website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |