The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 26, 2021 1:00 am

Unified Coaches elect local teacher

Bodenstein touts sports for special needs students

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Though he already coaches five teams, Carroll's Alan Bodenstein just increased his workload. And he couldn't be happier.

Bodenstein, 57, an adaptive physical education teacher, was named president last week when the Unified Coaches Association of Indiana announced its formation. Unified teams are a combination of athletes with special needs playing with those without intellectual disabilities. The Indiana High School Athletic Association sponsors state championships for track and field and flag football, while the Special Olympics sponsors club play in bocce and bowling. Basketball is exhibition sport in some schools, including Carroll.

The goal of the new association, said Bodenstein who is a former Fort Wayne Flames indoor soccer player, is to encourage more schools to offer Unified Sports, host coaching clinics and provide statewide recognition for athletes. Formation talks started about a year ago, and the organization is the first of its kind in the country.

“Look at any other sport in the state, there's an organization for them,” Bodenstein said. “If we are IHSAA sports, we need to start acting like it. The whole thing for me is to create a venue for these kids with special needs to be more social and do more things with kids who don't have disabilities.”

He said Unified Sports is Carroll's second-largest organization behind the marching band with 125 to 150 students involved annually.

“A lot of kids come in, and because they want to put it on college applications or whatever, and they totally forget why after a few weeks because they just love doing it,” Bodenstein said. “I guarantee to a person they would say absolutely the experience has given them more than they could ever give to those kids.”

According to Bodenstein, more than 100 Indiana schools are interested in fielding track teams, and about 50 to 60 want flag football teams. There are 125 Indiana high schools fielding Unified Sports teams, including Carroll, Homestead, North Side, New Haven, Wayne, Woodlan, East Noble, DeKalb and Norwell.

With encouragement from then-IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox, Unified Sports started in 2014 with track and field. Flag football started in 2018. Carroll finished second in the 2020 state tournament for flag football, and Tippecanoe Valley finished second in 2018. Warsaw won track state titles in 2014 and 2016. There was no state track meet in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Other locals on the coaches association include East Noble's Ryan Pepple as vice president and DeKalb's Carol Fike is a committee member. Northrop graduate David Prokup, now the coach at Valparaiso, is also a board member.

“To me, it's sports as it's supposed to be,” Bodenstein said. “The special needs kids do it because they love playing, being on a team and having teammates. The whole time I've been doing it, I've had one parent complain about something.”

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily