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Higley High student named AZ Unified Sports Athlete of the Year

Hadlee Searle

Spunk. Full of life. Enthusiastic.

Higley High student Hadlee Searle is all that and more, those around her say. As a cheerleader for the school’s Unified Sports teams, she brings it to the field. She encourages those around her to the same.

“She is her own person, that is for sure,” said Lisa Virgadamo, a paraprofessional at Higley High who helps lead the Unified Sports program. “She has a rally of friends around her at all times. She is very sweet. She’s got people wrapped around her finger and she knows it.”

Hadlee embraces the Unified Sports cheer team as her family. That emotion led to her nomination for the 2020 AZCentral/Special Olympics Girls Unified Sports Athlete of the Year award. She received the award during a telecast in June that included major athletes such as Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas.

“Hadlee is a ball of joy to have on the Higley unified cheer team. She knows when it’s time to perform and she gives it her all. Her spunky personality encourages her teammates to have fun and enjoy the moment even when it might be embarrassing,” Hadlee’s nomination read.

In addition to Hadlee’s nomination, Higley student Andy Cline was one of three finalists for the Special Olympics Unified Sports Boys Athlete of the Year Award. Higley High was a finalist for the Special Olympics Unified Sports Team of the Year.

Higley’s Unified Sports program is one of the biggest organizations on campus. Virgadamo said so many typical peers applied to be part of the class this coming year that they had to turn some away.

“The kids are so integrated together in unified,” she said. “The kids who we bring into the class, they’re just all friends. There’s no separation. You don’t see a separation between abilities. I love it. I love the program and the kids love it, too.”