South Ripley celebrates reception of National Unified Champion School banner
JARED ROGERS PHOTO
“What a great day to be a Raider,” South Ripley Superintendent Rob Moorhead told students and staff at a special convocation on Wednesday, October 16. The school corporation, and particularly its Champions Together chapter, were celebrating the reception of their banner for being named a National Unified Champion School earlier this year.
“We extend our congratulations to the South Ripley Raiders,” said IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox. He noted that out of 412 member schools in the Indiana High School Athletic Association, only 14 achieved national recognition for their Champions Together program. “Inclusion will be the driving force of our continued success,” Cox concluded in his remarks. Mike Hasch, director of the Unified Champion Schools program, added, “South Ripley is a leader in our state when it comes to the unified generation. You continue to lead and break barriers.”
Champions Together advocates for an inclusion revolution in middle and high schools across the nation by fostering relationships between students with and without intellectual disabilities. School chapters hold group activities, raise funds together, and form unified athletic teams. For South Ripley, the school’s unified bowling team was crowned state champions in 2019. The school has had an organized Champions Together chapter for over five years now.
Superintendent Moorhead and High School Principal Joe Ralston extended gratitude to several current and former staff members for making Champions Together possible. Foremost, Brenda Strimple received a standing ovation for her dedication to the program and its students. Addressing the group, Strimple said, “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” She reiterated that every student in school wants to feel like they belong, are accepted, are a part of a team, and that they want to have fun. She believes Champions Together is a program that makes that vision a reality.
Thanks were also extended to retired special education teacher Trace Tucker and his classroom aides; to Justin Griffin for stepping into the special education teacher role; to Greg Townsend, volunteer coordinator for the Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn chapter of Special Olympics Indiana; to the Kieffer family for coaching the unified bowling team; to the student board for Champions Together; and to 2019 SR grad Ashley Jones for her state runner-up video depicting the importance of the program at South Ripley.
Lee Lonzo, director of Champions Together, told students of the humble beginnings of the program and how he had to convince schools to join when it was first started. “Schools had to have an open heart and open mind,” he said, adding, “When I came to South Ripley, I knew I was in the right place.”