Oxford Coach Named Special Olympics Unified Coach of Year for North America

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Connecticut has one of the strongest Unified Sports programs in the country and that starts with great coaches.

“Unified Sports here is the cool thing to do and that’s because of Coach LaCapra,” said Oxford senior Kendra Grillo.

Jennifer LaCapra started Oxford’s Unified Sports program nine years ago and it continues to grow.

“It’s really about bringing everyone together and not caring about our differences,” said senior Joe Hines.

“Unified Sports isn’t about being good at it,” added senior Roula Tzepos. “It’s about the way that you treat others.”

“It’s a super fun team to be a part of and you see everyone high fiving each other,” said senior Matthew Michaud.

“I enjoy being able to talk to people, having friends and meeting people,” said junior Christian Athanasiou. “Half of my friends are actually from Unified.”

Last month, Special Olympics named LaCapra North America’s Unified Sports coach of the year, beating out 147,000 other coaches.

“Tears just started flowing and I don’t think they stopped,” said LaCapra. “When I heard the number, I was like ‘for real?’ I didn’t really believe that.”

“I know it’s one out of 150,000 but honestly Coach LaCapra is one in a million,” said Grillo.

LaCapra has made inclusion a core value at Oxford and it’s left a lasting impact on her students.

“She told me to never give up and to keep going,” said junior Sara Haliti.

“It makes me feel happy to be in Unified,” added senior Celina Brouard.

“Honestly, it changed my life,” said senior Maxwell Rand. “Coach LaCapra is such a mentor.”

“She’s honestly just an inspiration to me and all of the teammates in here,” senior Isabella Pavia agreed. “I wouldn’t be the person that I am without her as my role model.”

“You could be having the worst morning but the second you’re in Unified, everything just goes away,” said senior Danielle Barberio.

Even during a pandemic, her students always stayed connected and seeing those relationships form between the students remains LaCapra’s goal.

“We all can remember times that, you know, maybe we didn’t feel included in certain situations,” said LaCapra. “I know that’s my goal.”

“It just has such a huge impact on our district and our town as a whole,” said Hines.

LaCapra’s work extends even beyond Unified sports, working to promote inclusion throughout the state.

“Ms. LaCapra also leads our best buddies program so that the relationships go off of the court and into the community,” said Oxford principal Dorothy Potter. “She’s expanded Unified Sports throughout the district so our captains go to other schools as well. Her passions don’t just lie here at Oxford High School as well as our students. It is much bigger than that and it is because of Coach LaCapra’s leadership.”

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