At every Guilford High School (GHS) varsity basketball game, power forward Greg Sullivan has a cheering section that can’t be beat—his Unified Sports partners and players.
The GHS senior and four-year GHS basketball team member was a sophomore when he first joined his GHS Unified Sports team members as their partner for the spring and fall seasons. Greg’s involvement with GHS Unified Sports grew to include coaching Unified Sports at the town’s middle school level and working to broaden and strengthen GHS student community support by helping to coordinate Unified Sport’s annual End the R-Word campaign. This year, Greg’s connection to the programs helped deliver a special gift to the GHS Unified Sports program—a grant for $40,000.
The grant, which will be used in part to purchase new equipment and team uniforms and help create a larger presence for Unified Sports and its mission going forward, is being contributed by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Greg’s dad, Timothy Sullivan, is a foundation director who was instrumental in helping to apply for the grant to receive the award, says Greg.
“I’m happy that it worked out, and to be able to have me and my dad leave a little legacy for the school that could continue to help this program in the future,” says Greg. “The work we do at the school through Unified Sports and the End the R-Word campaign is already definitely making a huge difference. With the help of the Hilton Foundation, that will become exponential.”
On Oct. 11, Guilford’s Board of Education (BOE) officially accepted the $40,000 grant. In a statement, Guilford Public Schools Pupil Services Director Ginny Brown said, “We are thrilled with the generosity of this grant money to our Unified Sports program in Guilford. Over the past few years, the Unified Sports Program has grown immensely and has far-reaching implications creating positive connections and relationships between our students with and without special needs in the community. The monies will further support the growth of this program through funding staffing as needed, supplies, and equipment. We are tremendously proud of the success of Unified and celebrate the contributions of healthy living, inclusion, and team work it fosters. This grant is greatly appreciated and will benefit the continued success of the program.”
Greg says while his Unified Sports high school partners and middle school players may not realize the big boost that the programs have just been granted, they are excited about the new jerseys they are receiving. He also says they deserve to be able to play with equipment that is new, and the right size for their team.
“We definitely needed uniforms, because for a long time, we wore our ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ shirts for games,” says Greg. “The new jerseys are black with the Guilford ‘G’ on front, so we definitely feel like more of a team. And we needed equipment, especially for the middle school teams.”
Greg is a partner on the GHS Unified Sports soccer, track, and volleyball teams. He also helps out with coaching middle school Unified Sports at Adams and Baldwin, including fall soccer and spring volley teams. Greg also tries to get in some basketball coaching with the middle school kids, after his Indians varsity basketball season ends.
Greg says he feels lucky, as a GHS sophomore, to have come across two of his GHS Unified Sports partners, Anders Carlson and Alex Beckett, who both have special needs. The two became one of the main reasons Greg got involved with the program.
“I saw the bond between Alex and Anders, and with the other kids playing Unified Sports,” says Greg. “I could see how they are like family.”
As part of his involvement with Unified Sports, Greg got behind the End the R-Word campaign. He says it’s been a very meaningful experience for him to help other kids understand how easy it can be to become more accepting of all students. The campaign is held for one week at the high school and one week at the middle school level each year.
“With the End the R-Word Campaign, I saw how much it meant to them, and how much it means to our community,” says Greg. “I definitely see people being more inclusive because of the End the R-Word campaign.”
From handing out wrist bands to providing education about how the derogatory word affects people, Greg says the efforts at the schools during the campaign weeks are working. He says th growing number of GHS students getting involved in Unified Sports is just one example.
“Last year at the high school, we had a small team of about 15 total. This year, it’s pretty huge, I’d say maybe 25-plus. We’ve gotten a lot more people joining,” says Greg. “And the middle school teams are huge. Adams and Baldwin both have a lot of kids involved.”
A member of the GHS National Honor Society, Greg is also a scholar athlete and has been a student representative to BOE for the past three years. In November, Greg, together with GHS senior Danielle Ott, was recognized by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents for their leadership, service to their school, academic prowess, and service to others in the community.
Greg says one of the best rewards of his involvement as a Unified Sports volunteer has been the close friendships he’s developed with his unified players and partners, especially Alex and Anders. Many of his players and partners come to Greg’s games to cheer him on, especially Anders, who may be Greg’s biggest fan.
“Sometimes from the bench or in the field, I have to give Anders a quick shout out,” says Greg, laughing.
Greg, who is also a peer minister at Guilford’s St. George Catholic Church and volunteers with humanitarian work in Haitian communities, says other kids can show support for those with special needs by just being friendly.
“Even if you don’t want to get super involved in Unified Sports, go up and start a conversation with them at school,” Greg advises. “They’re all super nice people and very friendly. Just show them you care about them.”