Thirty-one Kansas schools competed this season in the newest official sport for the Kansas State High School Activities Association: Unified Bowling.
KSHSAA partnered up with Special Olympics Kansas to elevate Unified Bowling to a championship-level sport. This new program aims to create more opportunities for inclusion and leadership activities for students across the state.
Taylor Obersteadt, Unified Champion Schools Manager at Special Olympics Kansas, said the process of approaching KSHSAA to elevate Unified Bowling began two years ago. Obersteadt saw tremendous progress by her organization in other states around the country.
Obersteadt said her organization has had a pretty good history across the country starting partnerships with state activities associations to create inclusive interscholastic programs, but she felt like that was not reflected as well back home in Kansas.
"We were just kind of behind," Obersteadt said. "So when I started to hear about (state-championship level Unified Sports) across the nation, I really wanted to bring it to Kansas."
Obersteadt started with investigating what the really successful programs looked like and which one would work best for a partnership between Special Olympics Kansas and KSHSAA. She identified Nebraska's Unified Bowling program as being a great blueprint. She thought bowling also lends itself well for statewide competition.
"It's kind of the easiest sport to make sure that the kiddos can have a similar skill level and it would be a competitive model as a high school sport," shed said.
The teams compete in a Baker game format where frames alternate between five student-athletes, two with intellectual disabilities and three students without intellectual disabilities. The competitions consist of six games to decide the winning team.
With the plan in hand, Obersteadt went to somebody she knew could help navigate the process of sanctioning a championship-level sport. Obersteadt, who spent time as a paraprofessional at her alma mater Shawnee Mission South before taking a job with Special Olympics Kansas, reached out Raiders athletic director Josh Johnson.
"I knew he would be a great ally and he really was just that," Obersteadt said of Johnson, who has been a proponent of SM South's Unified Sports programs throughout his two decades as the school's athletic director.