TULARE, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A group of students at a south valley high school takes part in an inclusive soccer game where they connect with special needs students that allow them to build character on and off the field, showing that your character matters.

At Mission Oak High School in Tulare, at least once a year there is a soccer game that is not about winning but about bridging the gap between the student body and the special needs population.

“We like to say student before athlete and character before everything. And this is a really great opportunity for our student athletes to demonstrate the type of character we want to have here at Mission Oak.”

-Osama Hamid, Athletic Director, Mission Oak High School.

The school’s girls’ soccer team invites special needs students to play on their field for a unified soccer game. Here each student is given the opportunity to score a goal and have a moment to shine on the field. This is part of a game plan developed by Hamid, that includes inclusion, acceptance, and awareness of special needs students.

It’s not just the student-athletes that step up as fellow classmates show up to the game with signs supporting each special needs student that is invited to play. The crowd is also filled with the school’s cheer squad along with family and friends.

The support of the school’s student body, staff, and family, puts the honorary student-athletes at ease and excited to participate in the event.

“At first I was very nervous but then after I did it I was very happy that I made a goal. I appreciate it.”

-Jazmine Hernandez, Mission Oak High School Senior

The athletic director for Mission Oak hopes to have unified track and basketball teams in the near future and to participate with other local schools in Tulare County.