National Unified Champion School

Special Olympics Arizona Honors Kellis


Jeff Southwick

Special Olympics banner unveiled at memorable Unified Ceremony.

In the spring of 2018 ESPN selected the Kellis Unified Pride Sports program as a “Game Changer” school. The “Game Changer” ESPN series is in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics. The Kellis program has also been recognized as a “Unified Champion School” by Special Olympics Arizona.

The Special Olympics Ceremony was hosted in the main gym Thursday, November 8th where Zachary Vernon shot a buzzer-beater, ending the game perfectly. This perfectly-timed ending caused an uproar from the bleachers, and sent echos down the school hallways, as students and staff could be heard asking, “Did you see the Unified basketball game?” Families, students, staff, and community partners were very proud and excited to have seen and heard this memorable moment.

As a Unified teacher for thirteen-years at Kellis, Coach Wakeford is “just riding the wave.” Wakeford and the Unified Team believes in their students and makes the athletes feel capable of success in sports and life. “To get as many athletes, many partners benefiting from unified sports that we can,” was his main goal.

The court and the bleachers were filled with both present and past students and staff. It was not much of a hassle to gather all of the past staff and the alumni, “It was actually fun calling all the previous Kellis staff back for the assembly,” said Wakeford.

“I hope it makes parents proud,” shared Wakeford. He knows how hard it is for parents with children with special needs in high school, and what the experience is going to look like for them. Wakeford and the Unified Team are aware of the unique challenges that students with special needs face, and the team works tirelessly to ensure that the high school experience is positive for all students.

As the “National Unified Champion School” recognition emphasizes, the Kellis Unified Pride Program is an exemplary program that brings positive experiences to the entire school and community.

A video recap of the game can be seen on the homepage of the RSK Paw Press site and the game will air on Wednesday, December 19th, during the 7am-10am (ET) SportsCenter on ESPN2. It will also stay on and the Special Olympics’ website,