Member of Champions Together club helps students with disabilities via sports, wishes more people would volunteer


Ray Mo

FOR THE KIDS: Champions Together members from CHS and Center Grove play basketball in the Fieldhouse during halftime of the men’s game. President and senior Sophie Gates said, “I know a good amount of people that would not only do well in Champions Together but would really enjoy it and I would love if they volunteered.”

Daniel Kim

For Sophie Gates, Champions Together president and senior, volunteering for Champions Together has been a big part of her high school career ever since her freshman year and she said she is happy with the progress it has made.

She said, “Champions Together has made a huge difference in not only our athletes but also in our partners and volunteers.”

However, even with the many events taking place every year, Gates said she wishes more people knew about Champions Together and volunteered to be a part of it because of how much of a difference it makes for everyone involved.

She said, “We definitely wish more people knew about it because of the great things that are happening.”

Champions Together is a partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and Special Olympics Indiana designed to help students with intellectual disabilities by engaging them via sports, and it thrives on people who are willing to volunteer, similar to other unified programs/clubs in this school.

Champions Together sponsor Joe Stuelpe said he agreed with Gates about wanting more volunteers. Stuelpe said he wishes he had more volunteers on duty in order to have shifts.

“At times, it would be nice to have more people so that we could more evenly distribute the work,” Stuelpe said via email. “For example, the State Bocce Championships that we hosted took all day and we had several people that volunteered all day and it would have been nice to have been able to have shifts of volunteers.”

The next events for Champions Together are the Unified Swim Clinic on Feb. 2 and Mr. Carmel event on March 20, and, according to Audra Marchese, Champions Together volunteer and junior, one must be chosen by someone who is already a part of Champions Together in order to become a volunteer.

Marchese said, “A person has to be nominated by someone already on the Champions Together committee if they want to be a part of the committee itself.”

Marchese, Champions Together volunteer and junior, said that when there is a lack of volunteers, the club sometimes recruits from other clubs.

She said, “Sometimes we contact NHS or DECA if we need extra volunteers for specific events.”

Additionally, the help, according to Stuelpe, goes both ways; every volunteer and partner experiences and learns new skills, which Stuelpe said creates new opportunities for students to get more involved in school.

He said “A tremendous impact on the culture of inclusion as well as on the lives of both the partners and the athletes (has been made). Providing more opportunities for more students to be involved in activities at school is fantastic.”

Gates is an example of that impact. Ever since Gates volunteered three years ago as a freshman, she said she’s learned a great deal of skills while being a volunteer.

“Ever since I started in Champions Together, I learned so many things,” Gates said. “I quickly developed new people skills and ways of communication. I quickly saw the same passion and generosity develop in my peers and fellow volunteers as they saw the differences that were being made.”

Marchese also said she experienced a positive change as well.

“I have changed ever since I started to volunteer,” Marchese said. “I have learned to be more patient and have also learned to be appreciative of everything. I have made some incredible friendships through volunteering for (Champions Together) that I never would have made otherwise.”

Learn more about the Champions Together movement here.