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Q&A: Ingham Intermediate School District superintendent grants all-inclusive athletic opportunities

Teammates turn into friendships at a No More Sidelines event.

No More Sidelines participant remembers safety first and gets helmeted up before  the big race.

Every parent wants their child to feel a sense of belonging and achievement within his or her community. Dr. Scott Koenigsknecht, superintendent of Ingham Intermediate School District, is no different. When one of his five children was diagnosed with autism, he did not want this dream to be hindered. Dr. Koenigsknecht and his wife, Jennifer, established the Central Michigan chapter of No More Sidelines.
 
What is No More Sidelines and what benefits does it provide for participants?
 
Dr. Koenigsknecht: No More Sidelines works with local high school teens to provide a fully integrated athletic contest for kids with disabilities. It gives children with special needs opportunities to participate in athletic and community events -- opportunities they may not otherwise have. What makes this organization unique is that children with disabilities are playing side by side with their typically developing peers, distinctive from similar organizations that provide athletic and community opportunities exclusive to children with disabilities. No More Sidelines benefits both children with disabilities and typically developing children. We also see the parents and siblings of our participants benefiting. There are the obvious physical benefits of exercise. Beyond that, it gives children with disabilities a sense of belonging and allows them the opportunity to model the behaviors of their typically developing peers -- behaviors that often then translate into the classroom or at home. Our typically developing athletes walk away with a different perspective on things. Many of them want to go on to be teachers, doctors, therapists or other occupations that work with folks with disabilities. It’s an invaluable experience to expose these students to working with kids with disabilities now. Parents and siblings get the chance to get out of the house and cheer for their son, daughter, brother or sister. They develop friendships with other families who have been through similar experiences.
 
How did you come to form the Central Michigan chapter of No More Sidelines?
 
Dr. Koenigsknecht: In 2007, when I was just transitioning into my role as superintendent of Moltcalm Area ISD, my son was diagnosed with autism. Right around this time I heard Cyndi Blair, founder of the original No More Sidelines, speak when she was presented the Champions for Children award. I thought let’s bring these types of opportunities to kids in the mid-Michigan community. I wanted to provide my son and others in the region the athletic and community opportunities that his siblings have. My wife and I also saw it as an opportunity to connect and build a community with other families that were facing the same challenges we were. 
 
What are some types of events we can expect to see No More Sidelines hosting?
 
Dr. Koenigsknecht: There’s, of course, the athletic events. We had the Ionia High School basketball teams come out and play with our kids. We also had a golf event with DeWitt High School and Fowler High School and soccer with St. Johns High School. In complement of the athletic events, we like to host non-athletic community events. On Nov. 21 we’re partnering up with Pewamo-Westphalia for a Homecoming Harvest Dance. Next month we have a lunch with Santa. Yes, No More Sidelines is about athletic opportunity, but it’s also about community engagement and an overall sense of belonging and inclusivity.
 
You mentioned community engagement. What role does the mid-Michigan community play in the central Michigan chapter of No More Sidelines?
 
Dr. Koenigsknecht: The mid-Michigan community has been so generous in helping us raise funds. There are expenses that go into this event, like making sure each participant has a jersey to wear. As a non-profit, we wouldn’t be able to provide the level of support we aspire to give participants and families without the fundraising aspect. The school districts in our region have been amazing partners in getting typically developing athletes involved and donating money, time and facilities to make each event possible.
 
How has No More Sidelines expanded over the past several years?
 
Dr. Koenigsknecht: When we first began No More Sidelines of Central Michigan, it was for children ages 5-18. Then the first 18-year-old turned 19 and we thought where do we go from here? We started receiving calls from parents of 4-year-olds asking “can my child participate?” At its core, No More Sidelines is designed to be all-inclusive. We will work with and provide opportunities for any child or adult of any age with any disability. There literally are no more sidelines. Everyone gets a chance to play.
 
To learn more visit www.nmscentralmi.com, like No More Sidelines of Central Michigan on Facebook or email nomoresidelines@casair.net.
 
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