ST. ALBANS — BFA-St. Albans has had a long-standing partnership with Special Olympics of Vermont, which has continued into 2017. On Feb. 4, members of BFA’s Unified Sports Team ran into the freezing Lake Champlain, raising over $6,000.00 for Vermont’s Special Olympics largest fundraising event. The Penguin Plunge is only one way that BFA supports this cause. Over the course of the year, BFA Unified Sports holds basketball, floor hockey, bocce, soccer and snowshoeing activities, including nearly 40 different students. The program combines equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and athletes without disabilities on sports teams.

This January, two people associated with BFA were recognized by the Special Olympics of Vermont. Bill Mercier was named Unified Coach of the Year, and Xavier Pigeon was named Unified Partner of the Year.

As Unified Coach of the Year, Mercier has “demonstrated a high degree of commitment to building a Unified school community and the success of their athletes,” as indicated by the Vermont Special Olympics.

Mercier has previously been selected to coach teams at a national level, and is known for his capacity to go above and beyond at every event to ensure involvement of anyone around him.

Pigeon, Unified Partner of the Year, is described by the Vermont Special Olympics as “…someone who goes beyond the playing field to promote social inclusion.” Pigeon had his first experience with his brother Vinny during the Special Olympics USA Summer games in 2014, and returned to St. Albans to join his high school’s Unified Sports team. In 2015, Pigeon and Vinny were asked to speak at the Vermont Athletic Directors Association meeting, and as a senior at BFA this year, Pigeon is also co-president of Special Olympics Vermont’s Youth Activation committee.

BFA and Special Olympics of Vermont have been growing their relationship for 20 years. In that time, members of the Unified Sports Team have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the program. They have worked to provide positive social interaction between students with all different ability levels, and have fostered ties that turned into friendships both on and off the athletic field.

Jim Naylor, BFA teacher, Special Olympics coach and BFA’s Unified Sports coordinator says, “every year I am amazed at the impact this club has on the partners that are involved. The athletes are impacted too in many ways we perhaps don’t see, improved self-esteem, better health, general well-being. The partners sometimes change their career paths and decide to work with people with disabilities. They decide to help folks because it feels good to help one another. This is the true impact of this program, opening the eyes of folks to help create a better world.”

Editor’s note: Kristin Corrigan is an educator at BFA who writes periodic updates about BFA for the Messenger.