By Oliver Lazenby
A few years ago, Victoria Shannon couldn’t have pictured her grandson playing on a soccer team. Josh Wilson, a junior and special needs student at Blaine High School, was really shy when he started at the high school.
But last month, Josh was blocking shot after shot as goalkeeper for the Border Crush, Blaine High School’s unified soccer team.
“I never would have seem him doing this,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see him out there playing. He gets pretty jazzed.”
Unified soccer is a coed sport that pits teams of five against each other on a small field. Typically, a team is made up of three special needs students and two “partners,” who help out on offense but don’t typically shoot the ball or play much defense.
Blaine’s unified soccer team’s kicked its season off on April 20 against Squalicum High School at Phillips 66 Soccer Park. The team started three years ago, and support for the program has grown each year.
For Blaine special needs students and parents, that support means a lot.
“The families of special needs kids are just waiting for this kind of thing,” said Jason Skinner, whose son Nathan is on the team. “It’s fabulous. You see the kids on each side playing and having a good time, the fans are cheering, and it’s just a real blast. It’s humanity at its finest.”
Blaine High School life skills teacher Amber Burling helped start the team three years ago. Since then, the district has gotten behind the program and made more resources available to it each year, she said.
“This is the first year that it feels like a real high school sport,” Burling said. “It’s just really cool how willing the district is to back it.”
This year, the team has a paid head coach for the first time –Adriane Hendricks.
Hendricks coached in the Bellingham School District for the past two years, which has unified basketball and bowling, in addition to soccer.
Hendricks, a 2006 Blaine High School graduate, said her goal for the team is for the athletes to grow, learn and have fun.
“They’re playing on a team, riding a bus to sports events, having these high school experiences that we all have had,” she said. “They’re getting that typical school spirit and they feel like an important part of the school.”
The Blaine Border Crush lost its first game to Squalicum, but the team only had one practice before that game. They play next at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, at Mount Vernon High School.
See the team’s schedule online at nwcathletics.com.