Unified soccer game brings students of all learning levels together

SAN DIEGO -- Now in its fourth year, the Sweetwater Union High School District continues to host unified sporting events -- games that bring kids of all learning levels together. But these kids play for something worth much more than the final score.

A mid-morning soccer game between Sweetwater and Castle Park high schools looked different than most.

"It's great, a lot of awesome guys out here," said Sweetwater senior Ryan Young.

The Red Devils and Trojans teamed up for a unified soccer game, which puts students with learning disabilities on the same team as their general education peers.

"You can see just in their faces, even if they're non-verbal, how happy they were and excited," said Valeria Ruiz, the Sweetwater District Unified sports coordinator.

"It means a lot because they've been practicing during P.E. classes," said Nicholas Magana, a junior Castle Park varsity soccer player. "Last year it was football and now it was soccer. They wanted soccer and so we did it for them."

Unlike traditional soccer games, this one isn't about the final score. Instead, both schools say the real goal goes beyond the soccer field.

"For the students with disabilities, it means a lot," said Ruiz. "Number one, they feel included. They're playing a soccer game just like all the other soccer players. Number two, they're creating friendships with these people so at lunch time, if you came to Castle Park, you would see the partners and their teammates sitting together with each other and then you can see that these friendships develop outside of the field."

But like any game, there's always friendly competition. Long scored the game-winning goal, celebrated like a butterfly and proclaimed his team's victory, proudly.

"Yeah it was great, I made the score and then celebrates with a butterfly," said Long. "If I celebrate with a butterfly it means a score and I'm looking in the eyes and yep, this is Sweetwater nation."

Soccer is just one of five unified sports these kids will play throughout the year. The other sports include basketball, track and field and they even get the chance to try out crossfit.