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San Benito
May 28, 2024

SBHS earns Unified Champion designation from Special Olympics

Courtesy of San Benito High School Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum:

It is an honor to share some wonderful news about our inclusive efforts at San Benito High School, as for the fourth year in a row, we have met the criteria to be recognized as a Unified Champion School by the Special Olympics of Northern California.

The progress that has occurred under the leadership of Special Education Director Dr. Paulette Cobb and Special Education Program Specialist Casandra Guerrero has been simply outstanding! Mrs. Guerrero has been leading the effort on campus with grace, a high degree of professionalism, and a passion that is second to none.

To qualify as a Unified Champion School, the District/School must have one or more inclusive sports (SBHS has Unified Soccer, Basketball, Gifted Cheer and Gifted Games); one or more inclusive youth leadership opportunity (we have students as Unified Soccer and Basketball coaches, peer helpers, the Circle of Friends club, and ASB support of Unified sports and planning our Unified Prom); and one or more school community awareness activity (Circle of Friends offers ability awareness presentations annually, Gifted Cheer performs at rallies and football and basketball games, special education peers from the general student population are encouraged to attend games to support SPED students, and Circle of Friends holds Ability Awareness Week each May.)

In November of 2017, SBHS student and Special Education peer helper Mariana Magana came up with the idea of a gifted soccer team, which began in the Spring of 2018 with special education teacher Tania Sauer and history teacher and girls’ varsity soccer head coach Becky Bonner serving as coaches and players from the varsity team as peer partners. 

A partnership with Special Olympics followed, adding to the school’s rich history of inclusion through the Gifted Games, Circle of Friends, and Gifted Cheer. As the years progressed, SBHS added a Gifted Basketball season led by Coach Marlene Villegas and we started gearing our language more toward the Special Olympics “Unified” messaging. The school created Circle of Friends officer positions as Unified Sports Coordinator and Unified Sports Coaches.

To align with COVID-19 safety protocols and the District’s remote instruction model, we have adapted our program to meet student needs in a distance learning format through staff leadership from Mrs. Guerrero, Mrs. Sauer and Breanna Brooks.

Our Unified Officers on the Circle of Friends officer board meet weekly to discuss and plan at officer meetings. These students include President Lynnzi Weisner, Vice President of Inclusion Ellie Diaz, Unified Sports Coordinator Mia Villegas, and Unified sports coaches Andrew Minana and Maraya Royster.

San Benito High School, with guidance from Cameron Ahmadian Special Olympics of Northern California’s regional manager of Unified Sports, has followed a model with five-week seasons culminating in a virtual competition. Organizers are hoping to do this with soccer, basketball and track and field this year. They have set up a Google Classroom with Special Olympics resources and suggested asynchronous workout schedules. Unified Sports officers conduct two to three live Zoom workouts for gifted athletes. Last Spring, because of the school closure, SBHS held a virtual Gifted Prom and virtual Inclusion Week.

Included in previous on-campus activities, San Benito High School’s Gifted Sports in 2019 hosted Salinas’ Unified basketball team for a game that had a huge turnout from our students. Our Gifted Basketball team in March 2020 played in Salinas and had more games planned before the shutdown. 

The first virtual season of this school year, Unified Soccer, started on Monday, Nov. 19. Circle of Friends has started monthly virtual inclusion Fridays, starting with volleyball in October, when Baler volleyball players led a virtual workout for the gifted athletes. The idea is to partner with different Baler sports every month to raise awareness and inclusion. Organizers are hoping to partner with cheer this month and football in December.

Click below to watch a video from Mia Villegas, this year’s Unified Sports coordinator.

The team effort to provide and promote Unified Sports has allowed us to provide leadership and awareness activities and celebrate the talents of all of our students. It reminds me that every day is a great day to be a Baler!


San Benito High School Superintendent Dr. Shawn Tennenbaum