Submitted By: Rob Spicker
The School District of Lee County is proud to announce three high schools and one middle school have been selected as a 2023 Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion School. North Fort Myers High School was awarded its second national banner, while Cape Coral High School, Lehigh Senior High School and Lehigh Acres Middle School are receiving their first.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have been honored as a Special Olympics National Banner School,” said Cape Coral high School Unified Sports Coordinator Dr. Rob Gamache. “This achievement holds special significance for us, as it not only acknowledges the outstanding efforts of our Special Olympics athletes but also underscores the culture of inclusivity we have fostered here at Cape High. This accomplishment serves as a true testament to the dedication and unwavering commitment to inclusivity for all students that permeates our school’s ethos.”
A National Banner Unified Champion School is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community. The primary activities within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports® (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement. Banner Unified Champion Schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.
The students and staff at Lehigh Senior have always been very loving and accepting of the diversity we have in our school,” said Lehigh Senior High School Athletics and Activities Director Ernesto Adamo. “Our Best Buddies club achieved National Best Buddies Club of the year for 2021-2022. Since then we have added a Leadership buddies teams and increased our Unified Sports to 7 different sports. We are currently working on starting Lightning Lunch Buddies. Our buddies club, student leadership team and Unified Sports participants are always looking for new ways to better our school environment for all and honored we are being recognized for our efforts through achieving National Champion Banner School for 2023! It takes a team!”
The expectation of a National Banner Unified Champion School is that the 10 standards are continuously being met, year after year. To ensure this sustainability, schools reapply for banner status every 4 years. North Fort Myers High School was first honored in 2019.
“North Fort Myers High School is honored to receive recognition as being a Special Olympics National Unified Champion School,” said North’s Director of Athletics and Activities Joe Bowen. “Having been recognized in 2019 and again in 2023, it demonstrates the continued commitment to inclusive practices involving all students in our Red Knight student body. Students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates and work together to participate in activities including Unified bowling, basketball, and track, along with the Un-Knighted Club and Student Government Association. We are proud of our students and staff.”
Only 16 schools in Florida and 205 in the United States achieved this status. After applying, schools were reviewed first by program staff and then by a national Certifying Body of key educational leaders.
Lehigh Senior High School will celebrate its 2023 National Banner Unified Champion School award as part of a pep rally on Thursday, October 26th.
Cape Coral High School will celebrate its 2023 National Banner Unified Champion School award on Friday, November 3rd at 9:15 a.m. during their unified basketball game. Media is invited to attend. Cape Coral High School is located at 2300 Santa Barbara Blvd. in Cape Coral. Media planning to attend is asked to please RSVP to News@leeschools.net
North Fort Myers will celebrate its 2023 National Banner Unified Champion School award at a pep rally in January. Lehigh Acres Middle is still scheduling its celebration.
Mariner High School and Fort Myers High School were honored in 2022 as Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion Schools. They will be able to reapply in 2026.