Cheers, laughter, crowds and hoops—the sights and sounds at Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) earlier today.  

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, and the SRSS hosted the third unified basketball tournament. It is an opportunity for athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to play together and enjoy sports.  

Students from the SRSS, Ste. Anne Collegiate, Garden City Collegiate, Glenlawn Collegiate, Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School and Fort Richmond Collegiate participated in the tournament.  

Sara Oswald is a physical education teacher at the SRSS and is the head coach of the school’s Special Olympics programming. For her, it’s an “honour” to come to work every day and spend time with an “amazing group of athletes."   

“Special Olympics Manitoba has really taken on unified sports and pushing unified sport to get kids of all abilities involved in sports participating together. There is still a lot of special Olympic programming that happens, but we're really trying to push for a lot more unified sport to get more athletes involved and to create a more inclusive environment,” Oswald explains. 

Sara Oswald and Bryan ThiessenSRSS Physical Education teachers Sara Oswald (right) and Bryan Thiessen (left).

She believes in the importance of uniting all athletes and the impact it creates. The tournament rallies the school together and displays support for students with intellectual disabilities, which she says is rewarding.  

“This is an opportunity for them to be the star and to make them feel a little more seen in the world of sport. For the SRSS and the school culture to give them a little bit more confidence to play and participate and be a Sabre and be part of the school sporting culture on a larger scale,” she says. 

For students without intellectual disabilities, Oswald says that participation can be a valuable learning and leadership opportunity.  

“It gives them another idea of how sport can look and can be run and how they can be involved in sport. It allows them to show their leadership abilities, to make connections with other athletes in the school who they maybe wouldn't have participated on teams with and have fun,” she says. 

Grade 12 student Eric Martens helped with the Sabres team and made new friends, including Tuffi.   

Eric and TuffiTuffi (left) and Eric Martens (right) enjoying their time at the tournament.

“I know quite a few of them too, so they just keep passing the ball. Working with them is awesome, you just get to watch them shoot, and even if they miss, you still cheer every time, and they get happy,” Martens says.  

For Peyton Kehler, it is her second time being involved in the tournament. She says that through the program, she has built a connection with many students, and they often greet each other in the hallways.  

Grade 11 student and basketball player Peyton KehlerGrade 11 student and basketball player Peyton Kehler participated in the tournament.

The Grade 11 student, who plays basketball on the girls varsity Sabres team, shares her appreciation for the step towards inclusivity.  

“It's definitely a confidence aspect," Kehler explains. "It shows them their worth even in the sports realm, I think sometimes they're left behind in the sense of sports. This really is an outlet for everyone to play, and it's really positive.”   

With files from Corny Rempel.