A few hours on a Saturday afternoon at a Special Olympics event over 30 years ago changed the course of Teri Hayden’s life, and now it looks as if those few hours have changed the lives of hundreds of disabled student athletes at LA Unified.
After several years of pitches and proposals from Hayden — an adaptive physical education teacher and coordinator with the district — the organization that oversees scholastic athletics for LA Unified made the district the first in California to have an official division for students with disabilities.
While students with disabilities have competed in sports throughout the district and state for decades, it has always been in a semi-official capacity. Starting next spring, those students will earn official medals and win official city championships sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), which organizes athletic leagues and post-seasons for high schools in the state. The athletes will also be able to earn letters and lettermen jackets.
For Hayden, who has worked for the district for 32 years, it’s the culmination of a life’s work.
“I’m still on cloud nine, and I think that will last for a while,” she told LA School Report in a phone interview.
As a result of the ruling, track and field will become the first official inclusive sport and more sports may be added in any category in which general education athletes compete. Twenty-eight schools currently have a track and field team for disabled students. The ruling also throws open the door for other CIF sections in the state to develop their own teams and programs.