The number one pro-baseball draft pick, a two-time basketball all-star and a gold medal winner in beach volleyball may be the simple answer for the best of the best in a sport. When you remove the sight of the batter, the long legs of the player sprinting across the court and the ability to jump and spike, however, you may not think it’s possible to still be revered as an athlete. The UNM College of Education & Human Sciences (COEHS) is proving it is. 

COEHS’s Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) program and Sandia Prep just hosted the first-ever Adaptive Sports Day.  

“Adapted sport is still sport. It's sports for individuals with disabilities specifically, though other people can partake,”  PETE Assistant Professor Victoria Shiver said. “Everyone is learning the concepts that we want for them to be lifelong movers and interact well in a competitive environment and cooperative environment. It's a different type of movement, so there's no harm in it. We might as well do it and make everyone feel included.” 

Energetic middle schoolers, community members and UNM undergraduate and graduate students put together a day dedicated to understanding the world of adaptive sports, and the athletes with disabilities who make them a reality. 

“Middle school students are interacting with our undergrad and graduate students. Learning is happening, but usually everyone's smiling and laughing at the same time. It's a positive experience for everybody involved,” Shiver said. “Kids with disabilities also realize they can do these things and there are spaces for them to be competitive or to be active, and for that to be recognized and not just be dismissed in those spaces. Everybody is on the same page there.” 

This large-scale event came about thanks to the advocacy efforts of motivational speaker Travis Davis. Born with cerebral palsy, Davis built a foundation of inclusion in the Albuquerque community. When he stopped by a pedagogy lab meeting hosted by PETE Graduate Program Coordinator Karen Gaudreault, the beginnings of Adaptive Sports Day came together.  

“He expressed interest in putting on an event at Sandia Prep, and we were like, absolutely, how can we get involved? This is the first year of our partnership. We're really grateful to be a part of this. He is such an advocate and he can have connections to our students who have interest in diving more deeply into how disability may play a role in sport or in physical education,” Shiver said. 

The care and attention paid to every aspect of this event was clear. Sandia Prep and PETE (especially doctoral student Alex Kurtzman) coordinated equipment, staffing and space for over 110 middle school students, and dozens of UNM students down to the minute.   

“It's like physical education on steroids. It’s understanding that we're not achieving any standards, but finding a way to make it safe and enjoyable for everyone to really learn what it means and how to participate in an adaptive sports day,” Shiver said. 

Adaptive Sports Day also could not have been possible without the Jennifer Riordan Foundatio Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation n. Members of this team not only donated wheelchairs to use, but helped educate students on the importance of inclusion. 

“This is a unique case in that you have to seek out these opportunities as much as possible because it's not as easy as just integrating into what a typical K-12 school may be,” Shiver said.  “This opportunity is multifaceted–just getting experience with the actual sport itself, right? We can talk about it, but unless you're practicing it, you don't really know how to implement it, teach it and then perform it, which is part of the reason for doing it.”  

With those wheelchairs, wheelchair basketball was one of the stations across Sandia Prep’s campus. The other rotations included sitting down volleyball, boccia ball, a guided run and goalball. 

“Goal ball is for the visually impaired or blind, and is a sport within the Paralympics.  Individuals are on teams and while you cannot see, you listen,” Shiver said. “The ball makes noise. Individuals from opposing teams roll the ball or throw the ball to the other side. You have to listen for it and try to block it with your body and work with your team in that way. If it gets past you, it's a point.” 

There are many other activities which embrace athletes with mental disabilities, but organizers felt showcasing the sports involving physical disabilities was a strong place to start for the first year of this event. 

“There's physical disability and then there's cognitive disability. Of course one is not always without the other. Sometimes there's overlap. Typically the sports that we work on and that are more competitive are a physical disability of some kind,” Shiver said. 

The only bummer was the absence of the highly-anticipated beep baseball. This unique take on baseball utilizes sound based items, including balls, bats and bases to ensure those blind or visually impaired can play America’s favorite pastime.  

“I really like beep baseball. I think it is fascinating. It's something that not many people have heard of. People run full force at those bases–they are fully committed and competitive. If you have ever done that when you have sight and then you get it taken away and you try, it's such an intimidating feeling when you start out,” Shiver said. 

With only one major producer of materials in the country, the request from Albuquerque got delayed. That’s a testament to why adaptive sports has such a huge element of awareness; the more people know that sports exists, the more popular and accessible it can be. 

“The administration and the parents have been overwhelmingly supportive of this type of event because they want their children who are able-bodied or not experiencing any of these disabilities to have insight and empathy into what others are experiencing. Then the students do that, they experience that,” Shiver said. 

 “I'd say when you look at the way we structure much of the world, there's a great deal of people left out of the big picture. Oftentimes able-bodied individuals are not considering the lens of those who have disabilities. Regardless of location or your own experience day to day, we should not be leaving out a whole section of people, especially because their inclusion doesn't harm anybody else, right?” – Physical Education Teacher Edcuation Assistant Professor Victoria Shiver 

It’s not commonplace to consider these creative adaptations for popular sports, but it should be, according to Shiver. 

“Ideally moving forward, as our physical educators graduate and have this knowledge when they have a budget to purchase materials, they may keep this in mind as they start considering teaching adaptive sports in addition to or more than the more traditional sports,” she said.  

She and the rest of the PETE department make it a part of each of their student’s degrees to cater for all kinds of students. Adaptive Sports Day is not only an active learning experience on a basic teacher training level, but a way to prepare students for incorporating kids with disabilities into everything able-bodied kids can do.   

“A big part of why we're also doing it with our students is that when they become educators, they're teaching these sports. We don't want to just teach typical basketball, soccer or volleyball like a typical program that they probably went through. We want them to expand to meet as many students' needs as possible, and to make their students aware of what is out there,” Shiver said. 

Once the next generation of physical educators have that extra perspective built in, it’s a better experience for everybody.  

“It’s an important outlook for everybody to have,” Shiver says. “Whether it’s parents, UNM students or middle school classmates, inclusivity does not make anything more difficult.”