Chandler native honored for her work with Unified sports - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler native honored for her work with Unified sports

October 1st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler native honored for her work with Unified sports
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By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

Mali Chawla’s passion for Unified sports runs deep.

She first became involved in junior high. She said she was never athletic enough to play sports herself but wanted to make a difference with kids who have intellectual disabilities. She enjoyed seeing the happiness Unified sports brought to those athletes, and it brought her just as much joy to be a part of it.

Now, after being involved with it for several years, she was rewarded. The National Society of High School Scholars honored Chawla with the 18 Under 18 Award, a $1,000 scholarship given to a student under 18 years old who spread positivity within their communities.

“It’s honestly really special,” Chawla said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I applied to a few scholarships here and there with hopes of winning one of them. I didn’t think I would get this one and when I did, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so exciting!’

“It was very rewarding. Especially because I am so passionate about Unified sports. It was nice to see my passion get me somewhere.”

Chawla’s passion for caring for others comes from her father’s career as a doctor. She had heard several stories about the wide array of patients he has seen. He was also involved with a not-for-profit that specializes in helping special needs adults. That has led her to the University of Arizona, where she is in her freshman year pursuing a degree in nursing.

Her caring nature was what helped lead her to Unified sports in the first place. In sixth grade, she was able to do arts and crafts with special needs classes when she finished her homework on Fridays. She then joined the special needs club in junior high to stay involved. That led her to Unified sports, where she played basketball and ran track with the athletes and carried on her support for them through high school at Perry.

By the time she was a senior, she was voted the president of Unified sports at the school. She frequently led the teams through warm-ups and encouraged them to have high levels of energy while playing.

Being a part of Unified sports has been a fulfilling experience, and to see it growing rapidly in the state is something Chawla is proud of.

“It means a lot,” Chawla said. “I have seen it grow so much over the years. My senior year there were schools I had never heard of on our rosters to play. It was hard at Perry because Unified sports wasn’t always recognized. But this year, my mom was telling me the football team was there supporting the Unified football team.

“So, it’s not just other schools getting involved. It’s other sports at those schools getting involved with Unified. I love that aspect.”

Chawla was one of 18 students honored with the scholarship. She said she put the money toward room and board at Arizona.

To be considered, she had to submit a video showcasing her how their styles of leadership are contagious within communities. They also had to demonstrate how they will use that same passion as they move forward with their academic careers.

The video included pictures of her involvement with Unified sports. It also explained how her love for it evolved from junior high to her senior year at Perry.

She plans to once again become involved with Unified sports at her university, but for now is trying to adjust to a college lifestyle and schedule. But when she can, she will return to Unified sports.

“I’m still trying to get used to all of my time commitments,” Chawla said. “But I do plan to find a Special Olympics organization. U of A is very handicap accessible, and I think we have a paralympic basketball team. So, I’m going to look into helping out with that.