John Cascella
ASU Student Journalist

Unified sports under way at Dobson

November 7, 2021 by John Cascella, Arizona State University

Athletes and partners shoot around in class, preparing for the basketball season. (Photo courtesy of Emily Raschke)

John Cascella is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Dobson High School for

Unified at last, this is Dobson High School’s first year of its unified sports program. Now found throughout Mesa schools, unified sports are here to stay with bright plans for the future. 

Currently, 24 Mustangs make up the class: 12 individuals with intellectual disabilities (the athletes) and 12 individuals without intellectual disabilities (the partners). Led by teachers David Tykoski and Emily Raschke, this second block class takes place every school day. 

Partners are students from the general education that ‘understand that their purpose in the class is to serve others,’ in the words of coach Tykoski. “The partner's job is to serve those other students and to help them [understand] skills, strategies, and just build relationships.”

This season, athletes will be competing in both basketball and track & field with plans for badminton put off for next year. Although just a class at the moment, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) website currently has a placement for unified badminton (fall), basketball (winter), and track & field (spring) in the 2022-23 season. After practicing all year, the Mustang unified team had their first basketball game on Nov. 5. 

The Mustangs come into this season with an advantage over other schools, as Raschke used to coach freshman girls’ basketball. 

“It's helping a lot with knowing certain drills and being able to implement them,” said Raschke on how her background in basketball has helped her in teaching the class. “[It helps] knowing exactly what kids struggle with and how to best approach fixing those little errors.”

For basketball, the 12 athletes and their partners have been split into two, the gold team and the silver team. Mesa school unified coaches will be getting together soon to create a schedule to play each others’ schools as well as plan to host a ‘round robin’ event of games.

A usual week in the class looks something like this: Monday is a game day, Tuesday is used for basketball skills, Wednesday is the day they go outside or to the track to practice for the spring, Thursday is yoga, and Friday ends the week with a circuit of sports. 

“That’s my favorite day,” Tykoski added after Friday's activities.

For teachers and students, this has been a new yet very rewarding experience. 

“The biggest thing for me… is the idea of serving others and getting those students to understand that they’re giving their time to somebody else and focusing their attention onto someone else,” Tykoski said. “I like seeing kids help other kids.”

“I really want the kids to have an outlet to be competitive and to be taken seriously as athletes,”  Raschke said on her goals for the class. “ … To really make it a serious class where they’re given the same opportunities as our other athletes are given.”

"I have loved this opportunity because it allows me to see from the perspective of the athletes, how they feel,” said partner Nayeli Rodriguez Medina. “It has helped me actually get to know who these students are and what they deal with every day."

This is just the beginning for unified sports at Dobson. They hope to one day offer two hours of the class as well as expand their class size. At the moment, Mesa schools will be competing against other Mesa schools, but this may be expanded to compete between the AIA member schools.