Top Unified high school in TN: U.S. ‘Champ’ HVA

  • Alongside the banner announcing Hardin Valley Academy as a Special Olympics National Unified Champion School, which was presented during a ceremony celebrating this honor in front of a packed HVA gym of students, teachers and administrators Wednesday morning, Nov. 10, are a pair of HVA students heavily involved in the Unified effort. Gabriel Clark, left, who was among the Unified players taking part in a basketball game prior to the ceremony, is joined by junior Savannah Staton, a Special Olympics Unified peer tutor. - Alan Sloan

  • Golda Fewell, left, squares up for a shot alongside teammate Seth Miller as the white-clad HVA Special Olympics-Unified team played their blue-clad counterparts in front of a packed and electrically charged gym, which came prior to the school’s SO-Unified National Champion banner presentation, part of a ceremony to honor the school’s overall SO-Unified athletic success. - Alan Sloan

It was quite a scene in Hardin Valley Academy’s gym Wednesday, Nov. 10, as a Special Olympics state official declared the school “No. 1 in the state” for its Special Olympics-Unified Team student/athletes program.

“The uniqueness of Hardin Valley is that it’s not just a small group of students that are involved in this Unified movement, their whole student body is involved in it, which is changing the social climate within the school,” said Joanne Drumright, executive vice president of Special Olympics Tennessee. She was on hand at the school for a celebration featuring a banner unveiling declaring HVA a National Unified Champion School — the only Tennessee high school receiving such an honor.

The banner’s unveiling concluded the ceremony, which came after a spirited basketball game featuring Unified athletes.

“... This is what I have observed personally. I have been working with Tim Lee (Special Education teacher at HVA since it opened in August 2008) and the Unified sports program for nearly 20 years,” Drumright said, as Lee’s work with special students dates back to his years at Fulton High School.

“I have seen him take the whole Unified concept, from just having a small basketball team at our first event we held over 20 years ago in Knoxville, and engaging the entire student body at Hardin Valley,” the state official added.

With the HVA Unified track & field team having won three consecutive TSSAA state championships, “They are one of three Unified teams that we will be taking to the USA Games in Orlando, Florida, next year, in June of 2022,” Drumright said.

From HVA’s start in 2008, Lee recalled, “One of the things we had planned with Sallee Reynolds (then HVA principal); we talked about how we wanted to push the inclusion aspect of people with disabilities and people without disabilities being together in different opportunities.”

Unified high school competitions started “four years ago.”

Electric gymnasium

It’s unlikely HVA’s gym has ever been so electrified in the school’s 13-plus years of existence, as seats were packed with students wildly cheering for every made basket by a fellow student representing SO-Unified athletics during a Blue versus White hoops game.

Especially popular with his fellow students during this game was Unified athlete Trey Bozeman, as students buzzed every time he possessed the ball while almost taking the roof off when he sank a long shot or layup for the Blue.

Other Blue team members, which combined Unified players with other HVA student-athletes, were Maddox Stimson, Jacob Greene, Daniel Gooch, Owen Garcia, Nate Edmitson, Kingston Shingles, Julian McCoy, Ethan Richards, Jonathan Roman and Zack Passafume.

White team members combining Unified and other HVA student-athletes were Emily Brown, Antonio DeJesus, Nick Liakonis, Gracie Waite, Seth Miller, Matthew Vaughn, Golda Fewell, Gershona Fewell, Gabriel Clark, Jack Smith and Jaylen Panntzli.