On Saturday, September 4, RSL Unified will play its first match of the 2021 season against the RSL Unified Alumni team following RSL’s match against FC Dallas.

In the lead up to the game, RSL.com sat down with RSL Community Director Kyle Schroeder to discuss what it means to be a part of the RSL Unified group and the goals of Special Olympics Utah. In addition, Schroeder discusses the differences between Unified Sports, Paralympics and Special Olympics.

What are the Special Olympics?

A: The Special Olympics was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities from age 8 and up of all ability levels to train and compete in sports. To be eligible to participate in the Special Olympics you must have an intellectual disability, a cognitive delay or a developmental disability that limits both general learning and adaptive skills.

What is Unified Sports?

A: Unified Sports is a program within the Special Olympics that is all about promoting social inclusion through sport. Tim Shriver founded Unified Sports on the principle of using sport as a vehicle to create friendships through inclusion through sport. The program is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competitive exercises and experiences. Unified Sports joins people with intellectual disabilities, the athletes, with people without intellectual disabilities, the partners. If you are playing 11v11 in soccer you will find six athletes on the field and five partners. The purpose of the sport is that everyone is coached the same and everyone is refereed the same, it is really about inclusivity and having athletes and partners on the field at the same time competing together. Hopefully as those relationships form through sport, those relationships can now carry on off the field to create an overall more inclusive environment.

What are the Paralympics?

A: The Paralympics welcomes athletes from six main disability categories: amputees, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, visually impaired, spinal injuries, and others that include conditions that do not fall into the categories mentioned above. To be eligible and participate in the Paralympic games, athletes must fulfill certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards.

What are the differences between Paralympics and Special Olympics?

A: The difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics is that the Special Olympics is solely dedicated to the intellectually disabled community, or those with cognitive delays. You could have physical disabilities and participate in the Special Olympics as well, but its purpose is to be focused on the intellectually disabled community.

Where does RSL Unified fall into that category and why is it important to promote that?

A: The RSL Unified Team is a part of an MLS Works and ESPN sponsored program. It is important to Real Salt Lake because we want to create an environment that is inclusive and provides soccer opportunities for everyone throughout the entire state of Utah. We want it to be the goal of every person in the state of Utah that wants to play soccer to eventually play for Real Salt Lake. By creating the Special Olympics team, we are making that goal a reality for more and more people and making that experience more inclusive for every soccer player within the state of Utah.

To learn more about Unified Sports, check out www.playunified.org. To follow along with the RSL Unified Team, follow rsl.com for all the latest news and updates.

Tryouts for the RSL Unified team are held in the wintertime. If you have any interest and you want to participate in the RSL Unified Team, please feel free to reach out to Kyle Shroeder at kshroeder@rsl.com. Our team is geared to those who are 16-24 years of age.

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