Central HS Students and Teachers Present at National Special Olympics Unified Conference

Central HS Students and Teachers Present at National Special Olympics Unified Conference
Posted on 02/27/2017
Teresa Martilik, Daniel Morel, Zah Lineberry, and Megan Smith

Central High School (CHS) students Daniel Morel and Zachary Lineberry collaborated with Central staff members Megan Smith and Teresa Martilik to  present information about Central’s Fitness Mentorship program at the Special Olympics National Unified Champion Schools Conference held in Columbia, South Carolina.   Special Olympics organized the Conference, which included more than 200 representatives from forty-eight states, Canada, and Latin America.

Photo (from left):  Teresa Martilik, Daniel Morel, Zachary Lineberry, and Megan Smith

“The goal of the conference,” said Megan Smith, Special Education teacher at Central High School,  “was to educate Special Olympic staff and educators around the nation

logo special olympics

(and beyond) about ways to support unity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities in their schools.” Unified programs, Megan explained, differ from traditional Special Olympics in that unified teams or activities include students with intellectual disabilities training and playing with students who do not have intellectual disabilities.


 At the conference, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Martilik presented background information and a PowerPoint about the Fitness Mentorship program that they established at Central High School. Zachary Lineberry helped present by asking the question that he asks, with hopeful expectations, in Mrs. Smith's class every day, "Do we have a Trainer today?" Daniel Morel talked about daily activities and generally what the students do during the Fitness Mentorship class. He noted that participation in the Fitness Mentorship offers health benefits for himself and his peers from the Sports Medicine class.

 Daniel Morel and Zach Lineberry
Daniel Morel displays the caddy used to hold the pedometers.
Daniel MorelDaniel explains that the Hop-up Balls  are for sititing and hopping.  They provide  a great lower-body workout  and a fun ride for relay races.   Even the least active students love these balls.


Teresa Martilik, Central’s Athletic Trainer and Sports Medicine teacher, observed that Central High School students with intellectual disabilities were not as engaged or enthusiastic in regular physical education classes as their peers were.  Often, students with disabilities would sit on the bleachers or walk around the gym instead of participating fully in an activity.  

Mrs. Martilik graduated from Emory and Henry College with a BS in Athletic Training and an MEd from the University of Virginia.  She is in her eleventh year in Shenandoah County Public Schools and  is in her second year of a doctoral program in Kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  She began her involvement with Special Olympics when the Champions Together team began at CHS and is now on the Shenandoah County Special Olympics board and will be coaching Powerlifting during the Spring season.

When she was fourteen years old, Megan Smith began helping her dad coach Special Olympics in Frederick County, Virginia, and experienced  the positive impact that participation in sports can have for all athletes.  She recognized that unified sports had the potential of breaking down barriers and dispelling misconceptions among general education students and special education students.

Megan Smith, who has taught in Shenandoah County Public Schools for three years, graduated from Lynchburg College with a BS in Special Education.  She is currently enrolled in a Masters’ program through James Madison University with an emphasis in Visual Impairments and coaches track at CHS. She is serving as the local coordinator, along with her husband Hayes Smith, for all Special Olympic programming (traditional and unified) in Shenandoah County including soccer, basketball, track and field, and powerlifting.


These two educators combined their individual experiences and  their expertise  to create the Fitness Mentorship program at CHS.   The Fitness Mentorship program partners  students from Mrs. Martilik’s Sports Medicine class with students enrolled in Mrs. Smith’s Special Education class.

Fitness Mentorship
Students particpate in Fitness Mentorship class.

During 2014, prior to the creation of the Fitness Mentorship, there was considerable collaboration between students enrolled in Sports Medicine (SM) and students who receive Special Education services.   Students in SM provided demonstrations and guided practice sessions on healthy snacks, hand-washing, first aid, and other basic health-related topics for adult students in CHS’s Special Education LIFE or transition program.  These lessons were hands-on workshops. SM students created snack recipes, for example,  and then made them with the students in LIFE.

Champions Together, which engages students with and without disabilities in interscholastic sports training and competitions, was established at CHS in the Spring of 2015. Moore Grant funds of almost $3000, received by Mrs. Martilik for use in developing an adapted program, provided equipment and pedometers that were also used during the Champions Together training.  Using fitness principles that they had learned in class,  students in SM created practices for students participating in Champions Together and will develop individualized training programs this semester.    

Then, in the Fall of 2015, with the assistance of Sports Medicine students, Mrs. Martilik and Mrs. Smith created the Fitness Mentorship program.  The program’s goal is  “To promote the physical activity and peer relationships of students with disabilities at Central High School to encourage more active, health-conscious and social futures.”  

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, CHS students with intellectual disabilities go to the Athletic Training Room for fourth block, put on their pedometers, and get ready to have fun!  Students in SM lead a  group warm-up activity before they divide into smaller groups and participate in student-led activities.  CHS students with disabilities are eager to participate in the 50-60 minute Fitness Mentorship program.


Fitness Mentorship
Students participate in Fitness Mentorship class.


After Sports Medicine (SM) students have discussed goal setting and fitness principles in Mrs. Martilik’s classroom, they sit down with the students receiving special education services to help them create their SMART goals; that is, goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based. Examples of goals  include a step count for a class period or a lap count for the 12-minute run.  Goals may extend outside of Fitness Mentorship, such as improving skills for Champions Together track or basketball, running in the Turkey Trot in November, or completing the Law Enforcement Torch Run in June.

After goals are set, students in SM create activities and stations for the students with disabilities  dependant upon several factors including the student’s goals, what the student enjoys, and the space available.  SM students may have to differentiate activities based on one’s  physical ability level.  “We find activities that everyone can participate in at some level,” said Mrs. Martilik.  The Hop-Up! balls, basketball, and scooter races are among the students’ favorites, reported Mrs. Martilik.

Fitness Mentorship has been a win-win for both students in general education and for students who receive special education services.  

Data from the 2015-2016 school year reveal a positive  impact on the step counts of students receiving special education services following a year’s participation in Fitness Mentorship. The average step count during a Fitness Mentorship session for Central’s students with disabilities increased by  2,384 steps during the first year of the program.  In the 2016-2017 fall semester,  students, on average, exhibited 266.3 step count in an hour during a regular class period while the average step count in an hour during the Fitness Mentorship class was 3210.22.

It is  likely that the students’ success with Fitness Mentorship has helped to increase their success in general physical education classes.   Ms. Smith has also observed improvement in peer relationships and higher confidence levels among students with disabilities.  “Attention-wise,” said Ms. Smith, “I have also seen growth.  When my students return from fitness, they are alert and ready to tackle more academic tasks than what was previously observed.”

Students in SM , who are in general education, have also experienced an impact from the Fitness Mentorship program. At the beginning of the fitness program, only 20% of the students in SM felt “Very Comfortable” working with students with disabilities.  In comparison, in a survey at the end of the school year, 80% of these same students felt “Very Comfortable” working with students with disabilities.

Fitness Mentorship
                  Kaela Frazier and Graham Wenn, who are students in the Sports Medicine class,
participate  in Fitness Mentorship.


“I just enjoy making people’s day better, “ commented one student.   “I want to make a difference with the students,” said another student.    A third student liked “being able to communicate with the students receiving special education services and helping them become more active.”  Another student had gained “patience and a better understanding of those with disabilities.”  

Daniel Morel, a student in Sports Medicine, who was one of the presenters at the national conference, said that he had lost touch with his friends with disabilities. “We were all together in elementary school,” he explained, “but as we moved to middle and high school, we were separated.  It’s good to be back with all my friends.”  Since his participation in Fitness Mentorship, Daniel has been thinking of pursuing a career that will combine his interest in Sports Medicine with his concern for students with intellectual disabilities.

"Trainer's class is fun,” said Zach Lineberry, Central High School student, participant in the Fitness Mentorship,  and presenter at the national conference. “I have all of my buddies in there. Daniel is my buddy. I like Sharks and Minnows.  It is fun to play with everyone."

“‘Do we have a trainer today?’ This question has become the most popular question in the special education classrooms at CHS since beginning the Fitness Mentorship program,” said Megan Smith.   “Students simply love it!”

Prior to the implementation of the Fitness Mentorship program, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Martilik surveyed the student mentors in the Sports Medicine class to determine if the Fitness Mentorship program might help create a “more inclusive society in the future.”  On a scale of 1 (lowest) - 6  (highest), students ranked their interaction with students with disabilities during the school year.  On the pre-program survey, the average was 3.77.  On the exit survey, the average was 5.22.  

Even though it is very difficult to capture the long-term benefits of Fitness Mentorship outside of the gym or off the track through data collection, Ms. Martilik and Ms. Smith agree that  there is clear evidence that it is currently making a difference in the lives of the participants.

“It is providing,”  Ms. Smith observed, “a platform for friendships to develop organically. . . friendships that may not have had an opportunity to flourish if these diverse students were not all brought together through sport. It is evident that sport and fitness are the catalysts in initiating relationships and developing inclusion at Central High School. Who doesn’t love a good game of Sharks and Minnows? Fitness Mentorship takes the simple concept of play and uses it to motivate students to gain self-confidence by developing new skill sets in the area of social skills, leadership, and self-care, for the students in general and special education alike. Inclusion doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, Fitness Mentorship, reveals that it can be quite natural and simple. The ultimate goal is for this class model to translate into the hallways, cafeteria, and life outside of the walls of CHS.”


Champions together Evan Gochenour, Central High School student, hangs out with a Handley High School student in front of Handley High School. Both students participate in Champions Together, a unified Special Olympics program.


Ms. Smith and Ms. Martilik reported these additional activities related to the Fitness Mentorship program:

  • Megan Smith and Teresa Martilik presented “Fitness Mentorship” at the Special Olympics Virginia Volunteer Conferences in Fredericksburg, VA (July 9), and Roanoke, VA (August 6, 2016).

  • JMU Kinesiology professor Dr. Moran visited Central High School on April, 25, 2016. He observed Fitness Mentorship and offered constructive suggestions to help  improve  interactions with participants. He even asked students in the Sports Medicine Fitness Mentorship to visit JMU to work with his students running the Overcoming Barriers program.

  • Central High School’s Fitness Mentorship program hosted the President and Managing Director of Special Olympics for the Middle East and North Africa on May 5, 2016  with Special Olympics VA as well as Special Olympics International representatives.  Ayman Abdel Wahab was creating a foundation focused on promoting inclusive health, education, and physical activity opportunities in Egypt.  He visited several states in the US to observe operations and expressed interest in creating a “sister school” relationship of shared program models.

(Newspaper article: Northern VA Daily)

Fitness Mentorship students met with Egyptian's president of Special Olympics
Casey Rubenstein, Nicole Baker, Ayman Wahab, Lexi Keller, Cianne Fields, and Trainer

Shenandoah County has both traditional and Unified Special Olympic programs

ShenCo Special Olympics Practice Schedule:

Fall Soccer (Unified & Traditional)
*Every Sunday through October 29th from 2-3:30 pm (CHS Practice Field). * Follow gravel road between WWR and CHS, practice field at bottom.

Winter Basketball (Unified, Traditional, & Skills) *Every Sunday Jan. 29th-March 19th from 2:30-3:30 pm *CHS New Gym Spring Track & Field / Powerlifting *Every Sunday April 2nd-May 28th from 5-6:30 pm (CHS Track

Powerlifting * Immediately following Track & Field (6:45-8pm) Young Athletes Athletes with disabilities preschool-grade 2 *Every Tuesday from 4-5 pm at WWR Elementary school

 Logo Special Olympics  logo scps