ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford Public Schools is partnering with the Illinois Special Olympics for a new initiative.

The “Special Olympics North America Unified Champion City School Initiative” will engage several schools within the Rockford Public School system and offer the benefits of the unified champion schools to the Rockford area.

The strategy consists of three components: unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole-school engagement.

The new partnership is being called integral in the creation of several new opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, including playing high school sports.

Basketball will be the first sport that Rockford schools will participate in, with the hope of adding more later.

“The nice thing is, we actually have a partnership with the Illinois High School Association, so students who participate in some unified sports get to represent their high school on the IHSA level and, so far, basketball’s one of them,” said Jennifer Kelso, the senior director for Unified Initiatives for Special Olympics Illinois.

Special Olympics Illinois offers year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 21,000 athletes.