Unified Champion Schools (formerly Meet in the Middle) is a unique Special Olympics program that is changing the lives of students throughout the U.S. Since 2008 the U.S. Department of Education through Special Olympics, Inc. has awarded funds to Special Olympics programs to implement UCS in schools, promoting acceptance and inclusion among students with and without intellectual disabilities. Set in a fun, interactive, Unified environment, participants engage in advocacy, friendship, fitness, and sports opportunities – together. The Texas UCS program is also known as Meet in the Middle (MiM), now entering its ninth year and active on more than one hundred campuses.
Unified Champion Schools emphasizes three core components: Inclusive Youth Leadership & Activation, Unified Sports, and Whole School Involvement. Students participate in a wide variety of activities, from conducting Spread the Word to End the Word awareness campaigns to hosting Unified competitions in a variety of sports. UCS is a student-driven program; each campus forms a Unified Youth Leadership Team whose members consider activity options and recruit new and existing participants to join in planning and hosting different events. Authentic social inclusion is always the goal, so students of varying abilities participate in every opportunity as peers and equals, forming true friendships and utilizing the unique talents and abilities of each person.
The rewards students and teachers experience through Unified Champion School participation are significant. Benefits include advanced character development and social intelligence, new leadership and teamwork skills, improved physical fitness, and more positive school culture. Different activities may encourage student development of academic and life skills, in some cases meeting IEP goals. UCS runs throughout the academic year, with an open campus registration period each fall. A campus advisor team coordinates the program and serves as liaisons with SOTX staff, but youth ownership of the program is expected, encouraged, and rewarded.