School honored for Unified Sports programs
By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator
WESTBOROUGH – Westborough High School senior Shinya Honji was recently selected to represent Massachusetts in the swimming portion of the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games to be held in Orlando, Florida next summer.
As he and his school community celebrate this accomplishment, though, they’re also celebrating another major milestone, as Westborough High School (WHS) recently became one of only fifteen high schools in the country to be named both a Unified Champion School and a National Banner School.
That latter designation commends the school’s ability to bring together students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities in team events and programs to foster leadership, respect and dignity.
“Westborough High School has continually provided a socially inclusive climate, one where there is whole school engagement,” said Patti Doherty, Vice President of Schools and Community Development for Special Olympics.
WHS unified sports program grows
Catherine Caruso has been the unified sports coach for WHS since 2017.
The school initially partnered with Algonquin for its unified track and field program. It split to form its own program for the 2018-2019 year, though, Caruso said.
Westborough High launched an additional strength and conditioning program last year. Caruso said she’s now hoping participation will pick up after a pilot year limited by pandemic restrictions.
WHS student named to 2022 USA Games team
WHS Principal, Brian Callaghan, explained that while a typical student participating in sports may encounter some issues, a student with intellectual and developmental disabilities must overcome a whole different set of challenges.
That’s been the case for Shinya Honji as he has worked to earn his spot in the USA Games.
“Shinya just keeps overcoming obstacles,” Shinya’s mother, Beth said. “He was really sick a month after birth, resulting in a feeding tube for three years. In third grade he tore his ACL and was in a leg brace for years. Growth hormone shots caused scoliosis, forcing a back brace at night. He didn’t walk until he was two, nor talk until he was five, and yet here he is, graduating from WHS in June and two days later going to compete in the USA Games in Orlando.”
Beth went on to say that, while Shinya is small in stature, he has a big sense of humor and is a social butterfly.
“He even enjoys helping other special needs students, showing them what to do [and] demonstrating his leadership skills,” she added.
‘I love challenges’
Honji has competed in unified track and field, soccer, and basketball in addition to swimming.
In Orlando, he will swim his three favorite events, which include the freestyle, the breaststroke and the backstroke.
He said he is not nervous about competing at the national level.
“I have three gold medals already in those events from States,” he said. “I enjoy it so much because it brings a lot more challenges and I love challenges. I think the other Special Olympics kids swimming also enjoy the challenges.”
When he’s not honing his athletic skills, Honji also spends time researching and visiting steam trains as well as collecting antiques. He is an avid reader and enjoys playing video games with his Buddy from the Best Buddies program at school.