One of the reasons why inclusion in sports is so rare is that sports are a privilege, not a right like education is. As a result, inclusion isn’t a common practice for those with NVLD as it requires a lot of resources and effort from the support staff and coaches for something that isn’t a requirement. However, I believe that parents, resource room teachers, counselors, and coaches need to become more open to encouraging those with an NVLD or similar disability to join the appropriate sports team so that more students can enjoy the privilege and reap the benefits of being part of a team too.
Keep in mind I very much agree that it is extremely difficult for team sports to be fully inclusive, considering cuts are involved for a good number of people, especially at the varsity level. However, sports like swimming, cross-country, and track generally don’t have cuts, so more should be encouraged to join these sports. Through my experiences running three seasons and personally knowing other track and swim coaches, I know the focus is more on work ethic, creating friendships, and understanding the importance of reaching goals. So if you are committed to doing these things, your coaches and teammates will be great to you. These traits are also what individuals with an NVLD or a similar disability would really benefit from, as they often can struggle with these areas. The structure of being a part of teams allows for tremendous personal growth.
Since sports is a privilege, you must earn the opportunity to be a fully included athlete. For example, as I was entering high school, Penny Sharrow, my track coach for both indoor and spring track, said if I decided to run Cross-country, there would be equal opportunities for me on the varsity level for track as distance runners were needed. I took her advice, and right away, I earned the privilege of being an incredibly involved runner. I even participated in our league’s sectionals. I always remember her saying, “Eileen, you’re running the 1500 as you are the only one who would run this race, so what if they meet ends two minutes later.” The special thing about this was that I received an award at the end of the year, which only validated that inclusion in sports really works.
This decision was the key to having inclusion in sports be a success for me as running all year made everything easier and more enjoyable. Since I was always improving my gross motor deficits, I never faced a regression in my conditioning, which could have caused me to regain skills from the previous season. In many ways, it is like how many parents choose tutoring or to attend a summer program during summer vacation for their children with an NVLD or another learning disability to maintain their academic skills. Yes, this may seem like a lot, but in the end, it leads to excellent results both physically and socially.
However, I couldn’t just show up to Cross-Country. It required a personal meeting with my coach, Jim Adams, to discuss what goals I would need to achieve and how the sport would be successful for me. Of course, in the beginning, I required extra attention too. Fortunately, Jim was also a strong believer in inclusion, and I not only achieved all our goals, but I also love running for him and the togetherness of our Cross-Country team. While I was slower than the other runners, I will always remember when he is said, “The great thing about Cross-country is it’s all about doing your best and supporting each other in the process.” However, the best memory was receiving the Sportsmanship award twice at our league’s awards ceremony. Having NVLD, it had been a few years since I received any type of recognition, and getting this award just made me so glad I had joined a team.
I strongly believe inclusion in sports without cuts needs to be a common practice like it is in education. Penny Sharrow and Jim Adams proved how well it works years ago by always being so accommodating and holding me to the same standards as everyone else. As both Penny and Jim are still very special to my parents and me, this validates how through hard work and dedication, being part of a team can be such a wonderful experience. So resource room teachers, counselors, and coaches, PLEASE work together as right now, those with an NVLD or a similar disability are truly missing out on the privilege of being part of a team. It certainly isn’t easy, but I strongly believe the end results will be so positive.
I will always think the world of Jim Adam and Penny Sharrow!