Dakota Hawks United: Fostering Inclusion in High School Athletics

Published January 2024

At School District 197, our commitment to fostering connections, removing barriers, and affirming every student is brought to life through the Dakota Hawks United adaptive athletics program. Designed for middle and high school students with disabilities, this program provides an inclusive platform for competitive sports. 

Adaptive athletics serves as an entry point for students with special needs, offering a safe and enjoyable experience that goes beyond the gym. The program prioritizes skill development and enhancing social experiences through practices, games, sportsmanship, and friendships.

Each year, there are four activities to participate in: floor hockey, bowling, soccer, and softball. There are two separate leagues with specific requirements for participation—physically impaired (PI) and cognitively impaired (CI). Adaptive programs implement modifications to ensure the most inclusive and accommodating environment for all individuals.

For Jeffrey Rosga, a 12th-grade student at Two Rivers High School, the Dakota Hawks United program has been essential to his high school journey. Jeffrey's mom, Julie, shares that some of Jeffrey's best friends are from these teams and other schools. The coaching staff is also incredible, she shares. "Their time, patience, dedication, and kindness are unmatched!" Jeffrey's year-round participation in soccer, floor hockey, and softball has contributed to the Hawks' remarkable seven appearances at the Adaptive Sports State Tournament in just his third year of participation.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) ensures that the state tournament for adaptive sports mirrors the non-adaptive programs, featuring an All-Tournament team and identical plaques. "The tournament is always extremely competitive and exciting to watch," Julie shares. "I encourage you to go watch it if you have never been; it is really special!"

A Dakota Hawks camp is held each summer to introduce students to the program, providing an opportunity to meet players and staff. The booster club helps build community through seasonal socials, including team bowling nights funded by the program. Additionally, a banquet concludes each season, celebrating the program's achievements and student-athlete successes.

Reflecting on the program's impact, Julie shares, "It's hard to put into words how much this program has done for Jeffrey's confidence; it has truly given him a place to shine athletically and be part of a really special team. This was such a nice option when the gap in the regular sports offered grew a little too wide. Jeffrey did wrestle with Two Rivers as an eighth grader, and he played basketball on the C team in middle school."

Julie shares that she is thankful for the widespread support Jeffrey has received from Two Rivers High School—with classmates, teachers, and administrators attending games and State Tournaments to show their support. "Many of the Two Rivers sports teams, his classmates, his teachers Mr. and Mrs. Weiss and Profe Hanson, and even Principal Johnson have come to games or to the State Tournament to support him," Julie shares. "I only wish we had found out about it in seventh grade so he could have played longer!"

To learn more about Dakota Hawk United, visit their website here