Two Canberra Marist College Year 9 students, Paul Carton and Sam Jeacle have turned their vision of a sports inclusion program for disabled students into reality.
Now running for six years, ENGAGE Sports provides young people who have a disability with an enjoyable experience of sport and interaction with Marist College students. The program began slowly, with the students and a group of mates fundraising and applying for a Youth InterACT grant so they could buy modified sporting equipment.
Sam says at first it was just an idea and they weren’t even sure if anything could happen. However, with support from students and teachers, over the following two years Paul and Sam recruited volunteers, engaged the broader community and promoted the program at schools for students with disabilities.
ENGAGE Sports has continued to develop. Originally designed for students from primary and secondary schools (Malkara and The Woden School) the program has expanded to include young adults and their carers (Woden Community Services).
Together with the Marist students, participants play a variety of modified games such as boccia ball, table-cricket and volleyball. The participants are from a range of schools within Canberra and have been attending the program for many years.
The program has been a two-fold success with Marist students gaining a greater appreciation for the diversity of people within the community while participants and their parents are equally positive.
Student feedback tends to focus on how they get as much from the program as the students they help. Comments include: ‘The awkward relationships turned in friendships over the semester and I made a difference, no matter how small my contribution was’; ‘It was humbling playing with her, and put it in perspective for me, because she has a disability but was so full of joy the whole time, a giant smile on her face the whole time’; I realised that I wasn’t there for me, I was there to make the lives of the kids easier and once I figured that out, it made me value being there a whole lot more.’
Participants and their parents are equally enthusiastic, praising the boys’ commitment as well as providing a welcoming and fun environment. For many of the participants, ENGAGE Sports is one of the highlights of their week.
Marist College has been approached by the Canberra YMCA to expand ENGAGE Sports to include Raid Basketball, a modified basketball game for people of all ages who have physical disabilities. Marist students have participated in volunteer roles in the Special Olympics, Be Your Best Sports Day, The Woden School Athletics Carnivals and have seen Old Boys such as Paul Carton establishing an inclusive AFL program and seeking career pathways in the disability sector.
Marist College believes that when considering disability inclusion, the level of impact that a small program can have on the broader community should not be underestimated. The ENGAGE Sports model can be implemented by Catholic schools seeking to foster good Christians and good citizens; young people who are ready to extend their hand of friendship to those left on the sidelines of society.
Thefree program runs for an hour on Wednesday afternoons from 3.15 in the Marist College Canberra Senior Gymnasium during school term time. For more information on the program, contact Jen Croker on (02) 6298 7248 or JenniferCroker@mcc.act.edu.au.
Nathan Ahearne is Director of Faith Formation at Marist College, Canberra. See also Nathan’s blog.