LSHS Unified Soccer


Michael Wood

Say cheese: Lake Stevens cheerleaders, sophomore Maya Taylor, senior Alyvia Phenis, and junior Myla Pishue gather with Granite Falls Unified Soccer players after the game. This is only a tiny moment captured of all the school’s students and staff gathered with each other to celebrate the event’s success.

Unified through soccer
Special Olympics creates/kicks up/sparks inclusivity among LSHS students

Lake Stevens High School hosted its first-ever unified soccer game to finish in the month of April. Unified Soccer is a program that is set up throughout the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics was created to promote inclusion for all people to feel accepted, mainly through the form of sporting events. Coach and teacher Eric Solbakken, alongside his wife, Jessica Solbakken, were able to provide this opportunity for children around our community by setting up this game after contacting the Special Olympics. April 26 marked the first year that Lake Stevens High School hosted unified soccer games accompanied by other schools such as Mariner High School and Granite Falls High School.
The event featured a total of three soccer games played. Prior to the soccer games themselves, the program here at Lake Stevens High School was able to set up an extremely fun opportunity for all the kids playing, officiating, and contributing to the tournament. Teams were invited into the cafeteria before kickoff began, where they were greeted by the LSHS cheer team and drum line. They were cheered on as they entered the building to get them fired up and ready to go for the games. Additionally, these players needed some energy as well to fuel them in their competition, which was provided by LSHS with pizzas available for all students and teaching staff who volunteered at the games. The athletes also played games with each other in the cafeteria to bond and build friendships. Before taking the field, the soccer players lined up in their respective teams and were led to the field as the drumline played and the cheer team chanted in the front of the pack. The Lake Stevens track and field team, who had just finished up practice for the day, formed a tunnel for the teams

“It was an absolute no-brainer when the idea was brought up, I knew that if our team had any opportunity to provide a stellar experience for the kids, we were going to take that chance and do everything we could to make it special,” senior Ashten Hendrickson said.

After the players took the field, they all lined up for the playing of the national anthem performed by Alex Buck. The performance was said to be absolutely amazing and faces were lit up all across the stands as the anthem was sung.
Two games were played on each half of the field. Each team was composed of not only students serving in special education but also general education students who volunteered to play for each team and contribute to the overall experience for the kids. Win or loss – it didn’t matter, as all the students who participated had smiles on their faces for the entirety of the event. Regardless of which team put the ball in the net, the crowd went nuts for every single student who participated. But the performance of the game was not the most amazing part of the night according to many.

“It honestly meant so much more to the kids just to feel the energy from everybody and feel like they were on top of the world for the time being,” Coach Eric Solbakken said.

After speaking with numerous adults and students who attended the game, it seemed as if everyone was blown away by the overall support from the community for these students. Most would have thought it was a championship game to a varsity sporting event with the turnout of fans in the crowd. This is due to the endless amount of promotion from the students and staff here at Lake Stevens High School. For weeks before the event, every morning the details of the events were shared on the intercom, while the students in ASB made posters and publicized the event on social media. The unquestionable support from the community is what made this day so special for these kids.
More than anything, it seemed like the community all had one common thought to end the day. Everyone wants to see this program expanded throughout schools all across Snohomish County. As of right now the only local schools that have these programs for the children are the schools that competed this year.

“It gives more kids the chance to not feel like an outcast, and feel more recognized around school,” senior Harley Bentz said.

All are hoping that after the insane love and support of our first unified soccer game, more schools will become inspired to create their own teams to provide these kids with an opportunity that they will remember for a lifetime. This program is such a small effort, for such a large impact on so many lives.