Unified Sports carnival draws some 150 at Guilford High School
GUILFORD — As the mouthwatering aromas of cotton candy and popcorn filled the air, some 150 celebrators mingled at the Unified Sports end of year carnival at Guilford High School last week.
Smiles and laughter were in abundance as the crowd gathered on the back lawn of GHS and made chalk drawings and played Giant Inflatable Bowling, Can Knock Down, Connect Four, soccer and cornhole.
The goal of the event, sponsored by Guilford High School Unified Sports, was “to make it accessible and inclusive for anyone and everyone,” said Jaye Carlson, GHS coach for Unified Sports.
The CIAC/Special Olympics Unified Sports Program “gave us the opportunity by giving us a very generous donation so we could have a yearend event,” she said.
“Unified Sports is a registered program of Special Olympics that combines athletes with and without intellectual disability (or other developmental delays) on sports teams for training and competition,” according to ciacsports.com.
Attendees came from Durham, Guilford, Madison, North Haven and Westbrook.
“There’s a lot of games, there’s good carnival food,” said GHS senior Carly Hay.
“I think it’s good to show that you don’t need some big, crazy thing to have fun,” she said, wearing a purple jeweled crown.
“This carnival is all student run,” the GHS senior said. “We all put the games together, we picked out what we wanted, and I think it’s just good to show that you can bring different communities in, in a fun and inviting way.”
Her enthusiasm was shared by her peer, Gavin Lana.
“I’m having so much fun,” said Lana, a coach at Guilford’s Abraham Baldwin Middle School and Adams Middle School.
“Unified Sports is my favorite thing I’ve ever done at the high school,” the 17-year-old said, taking a break from enjoying his fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar.
“I’ve met so many new people and I just love working with the athletes,” he said.
Jacob Kokoruda enjoyed corndogs, pretzels, cotton candy and drinks.
The 21-year-old Madison resident was with his mother, Sharon Kokoruda. She talked about how important the event was for her son and his peers.
“I think one of the hardest things about graduating from your school is when you’re home you don’t have that peer socialization,” she said.
“There aren’t a lot of programs that get your kids out and a lot of our kids don’t have the social ability to make plans and to invite people over,” she said.
“So, when you have these organized events, it provides them with that,” Kokoruda said.
“Even if they’re not socializing so much when they’re here, they know that they’re with their peers and they really, really enjoy it,” she said. “As a parent you’re so grateful for the time that people put in and the kids that participate because it means so much to them.”
Posing for photos were the newly-crowned Miss CT USA 2023 Karla Aponte Roque and Miss Teen CT USA 2023 Jade Ferdinand, both wearing silver crowns and handmade Carnival Ringmaster 2023 badges.
“The kids were sweet enough to make us the ringmasters of today’s carnival event,” said Aponte Roque, as she and Ferdinand took a break from posing for photographs.
“As good ringmasters we’re going around getting them excited and eating a lot of food to make sure that we can tell them which ones are the best,” the Branford resident said.
“I ate the fried dough,” she said. “That was number one on my list. But Jade over here got lost in the corndogs.”
“Oh, yeah, corndogs and the fried dough,” said Ferdinand. “I’m eyeing the popcorn and the cotton candy. That is so next.”
“On, yeah, the popcorn’s next,” chimed in Aponte Roque.
Asked if they were having fun, Aponte Roque hesitated and said, “I wish I could say I’m having fun.”
“But I’m having a blast,” she said, enthusiastically. “These kids are awesome.”
“They are not only showing us what it means to be truly unified in the sense of just enjoying ourselves, but they’re so kind and big hearted that they not only made us these ringmaster pins, but they’re taking us around, showing us what’s here,” she said. “We had a full escort to getting our fried dough, so they have been so kind to us.”
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