Sports of the Paralympic Games by Aaron Derr was published in 2020 as the next installment of the Gold Medal nonfiction collection.
A Teacher’s Thoughts:
As an educator, especially one who offers access to the world through a classroom library, I know representation matters. Three years ago when I returned to the classroom I realized my “Sports Books” bin needed some serious updating for representing women and girls in sports. That summer I read and researched until I had a “Sports Book” category I was proud of. Fast forward to this past August when I looked at my Sports bin and I thought, Yes, now I have girls and women there, but where are athletes with a range of abilities? When it comes to representation it’s not This or That, it must be This AND That.
My interest in adaptive sports for athletes with disabilities is personal and while I never thought I’d call myself a “hockey mom,” I didn’t hesitate to own the title when my son wanted to play sled hockey. Sled hockey is essentially the sport of ice hockey except players use sleds and two shorter hockey sticks (blades on one end, picks for ice on the other). Jamin has played for both the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Colorado Avalanche with teammates who have various mobility needs. Some have spinal cord injuries and others were born with conditions like Cerebral Palsy or Spina Bifida. Several athletes are amputees, a few are Little People and many have other reasons for gravitating to the sport. Basically sled hockey includes anyone who doesn’t participate in stand-up hockey, but wants the thrill of smacking the puck (and your opponents when they are in the way of the puck).
Sports of the Paralympic Games opens with a history of how the Paralympics came to be and then highlights summer and winter sports. Since the 1940s there were games for athletes who were paralyzed or in wheelchairs, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the events were called the Paralympic Games. There are two reasons for the name, one is the combination of the words paraplegic and Olympics and the other is that the Greek word ‘para’ means alongside because now the Paralympics occur alongside the Olympics.
For my lesson, I passed out index cards and I asked students to write what they thought the Paralympics were based on the word or their prior knowledge. Here’s what they said:
“Here’s what I think Paralympics are. I think it’s Olympics for
disabilities because of the word ‘parallel’ as in parallel parking.”
“I think the Paralympics must be a team sport.”
“I think Paralympics are like gliding (paragliding)”
“Here’s what I think the Paralympics are is for people to do things together.”
“I think it’s Olympics for disabilities because of the ‘para’ like paralyzed Olympics because your son is paralyzed.”
“I think it’s Olympics for ghosts because of the words ‘paranormal.’ “
The last guess made me smile because this year we’ve really worked on using our knowledge of Greek and Latin roots to help us figure out new words so I was delighted to see several students giving it a go.
Not everyone knows that there are three different types of Olympics so I asked my students to notice and wonder about the graphic that shows the difference between Paralympics, Special Olympics and the Olympics.
Source: Special Olympics graphics
Several students admitted they didn’t know there was a difference between the Special Olympics and Paralympics. One student added, “I’m just glad no one has to be left out of the Olympics if they are good and really, really want to do some sport.”
Once we had that background established, I selected excerpts from the book to read about Paralympic history, summer sports (like archery, high jump, discus, rugby and volleyball) and winter sports (like skiing, curling, snowboarding and of course sled hockey). My students had many questions about sled hockey:
How do they push and direct the puck at the same time?
Is it harder to do stand up hockey or sled hockey?
How do they keep their balance?
Why are some of the sleds really short?
Two players on the 2014 Paralympic gold medal winning team, Josh Sweeney and Rico Roman, were featured in a documentary called Ice Warriors (available on PBS.org). Roman and Sweeney have worked with our sled hockey players for years and are always willing to bring out their medals and skills to support the sport. I showed my students an exciting three-minute Ice Warriors clip featuring Josh and Rico so they could get some of their questions answered.
Several students realized that some of the sleds were short because many of the top players were amputees. One girl smacked her head in realization, “I think I’ve seen people with their pros–proth–how do you say it?”
“Prosthetics?” I offered.
“Yes, with their prosthetics but it never really occurred to me that they’d take them off to play.”
“Yep, legs kind of get in the way for sled hockey,” I agreed.
I closed the lesson by asking students to flip their cards over and write what they “now know” about the Paralympics.
Some responses had me scratching my head like,
“Now I know the Paralympics are people with broken legs on
Other responses were more fully realized:
“So now I know there is an Olympics for people who served
in the military and got injured and want to play sports.”
“Now I know that the Paralympics are…for non-able bodied
people to still have the chance to compete.”
I highly recommend adding Sports of the Paralympic Games to your library however big or small. When we are teaching the values of hard work, perseverance and resilience in our classroom, it’s great to put real life examples in students’ hands so we can share This AND That.