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Theraputic League teaches Western Pa. students value of sports beyond wins and losses

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Karlon Nixon has seen first hand the transformative power that sports can have in a person's life.

A sports history teacher and athletic director at Wesley Spectrum Academy in Upper St. Clair, Nixon has served as league commissioner for the Western Pennsylvania Intramural Therapeutic League since 2010. The WPITL was started in 2008 with the purpose of teaching student-athletes the values of fair play and teamwork, rather than focusing on winning and losing.

There are currently eight schools that participate in the WPITL: Wesley Academy, Wesley Highland, Bradley Center, Pace, Pressely Ridge, Glade Run, Longmore Acadmey and Watson Institute. Most of the students that attend these schools struggle with various forms of conduct disorder, or handicaps such as OCD and autism. The ultimate goal is for the students to be integrated back into their local public schools.

The WPITL has played a significant role in that process.

“We've made a lot of improvements,” Nixon said. “We're using the league to motivate the kids inside the classroom, and you can see a big difference when the kids are playing a sport or not playing a sport.”

“It has improved the students' behavior and grades overall, and I can say that about all the schools.”

Students have the option to participate in flag football in the fall, basketball in the winter and soccer in the spring. All games take place Thursdays at 11 a.m. and practices are held during the school day so that students don't face transportation issues after school.

The games inspire plenty of healthy competition to go along with the lessons being taught to the athletes.

“A lot of these kids have never played a sport before, and just getting them out to play the sport, no one wants to lose,” Nixon said. “Everyone likes to win.”

The format of the league still allows students to compete for their district high school teams.

One Wesley Academy student also was a member of South Fayette's WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion football team, and another played for the Wilkinsburg football team last season.

Without the experience provided by the WPITL, those students might not have had the confidence to pursue the athletic opportunities afforded them.

“These kids play these intramural sports and they see, ‘Hey, I'm good at these sports,' ” Nixon said. “They're just too scared to try.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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