For four years, Sheri Kellaher has been capturing the spirit, friendship, and sportsmanship of Guilford’s Unified Sports program through her camera lens.
On Friday, May 12, Guilford Art Center (GAC) will celebrate Sheri’s view of the athletes and their teammates, with an opening reception for an exhibit of Sheri’s Unified Sports photography.
The May 12 reception, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. in the GAC gallery, will also serve as a co-opening reception to celebrate the creativity of Guilford’s school-aged artists, with the opening of an exhibit of works in all media on display by students in grades K to 12. The combined exhibits create a perfect pairing that serves to highlight Guilford students of all abilities. GAC encourages all exhibiting artists and their families and friends to attend.
Sheri’s first view of a Guilford Public Schools (GPS) Unified Sports game arrived thanks to her oldest son, Aidan, now finishing his freshman year at Marquette University. A Guilford High School (GHS) basketball player who also went on to captain the GHS golf team, Aidan got involved in Unified Sports when he was a sophomore at GHS.
“I went to watch a game and immediately fell in love with Unified,” says Sheri.
The inclusive program unifies athletes with intellectual disabilities together with student partner teammates. Together, they train and compete in sports including soccer, basketball, and volleyball.
Soon after she attended her first Unified game, Sheri, a self-described “amateur photographer,” began bringing her camera. Since then, she’s taken hundreds of stunning photos of players—and not only when they’re making thrilling plays. Sheri’s also caught many inspirational moments, such as students cheering each other on from the sidelines or in the stands.
“Unified Sports is amazing because of the spirit that surrounds every game,” says Sheri. “In my photographs, I’m trying to capture the competitive spirit, sportsmanship, friendships, joy, and love that I witness every time I attend a Unified Sports event.”
A graphic designer working in Guilford, Sheri was a designer in New York City for nearly 10 years before moving to town 18 years ago with her husband, Marty. Sheri says she’s loved raising their four kids in Guilford and feels like it’s important to give back the community that has welcomed them.
Four years ago, she also began volunteering with Guilford Youth Mentoring (GYM). Sheri’s delighted to dedicate an hour a week, throughout the school year, to continue to visit and share time with her mentee, now a Baldwin 5th-grader.
After school during the fall and winter sports months, Sheri’s attendance at Unified Sports games takes much of her focus.
“I try to go whenever I can, because I love it,” she says.
In addition to Sheri’s dedicated support of the program, her three younger children are also GPS Unified Sports team members.
Son Sean, now in his senior year at GHS and captain of the GHS baseball team, began playing Unified Sports as a freshman. Following in his brothers’ Unified player footsteps is Colin, a GHS sophomore and basketball player. Sheri’s youngest, Moira, an Adams Middle School 8th grader who plays soccer and basketball, has been playing Unified sports all through middle school and is looking forward to entering the program at GHS.
Through her photo exhibit at GAC, Sheri hopes to help many others recognize the benefit of bringing together students of all abilities to enhance the lives of all those who participate.
“The friendships that my family has formed through Unified Sports is what is most meaningful to me. We have met the most amazing, kind, strong, and compassionate people through Unified,” she says. “The students in this program are equally incredible. It has been a joy watching the partners and athletes become great friends on and off the courts. They love and support each other, and always have a great time together. Unified is a family, and I believe that the bonds we’ve all made here will last a lifetime.”
Sheri also credits the “awesome Unified coaches” Jaye Carlson, Kim Beckett, and Steve Zajac for doing “an amazing job with the program.”
Sheri has selected 36 photos to mount for the GAC exhibit, which runs May 12 to Sunday, June 4 and is free and open to the public. While the GAC exhibit will be Sheri’s first, she has been sharing her Unified Sports photos with players and their families since she started taking pictures, often sending out images to an email lists of participants. As her gift to all who participate, Sheri also creates a special slide show that’s featured at the Unified Sports year-end banquet, sharing the photos she’s taken throughout the year.
As a fan of Unified Sports, Sheri says anyone who has yet to witness moments such as those she feels lucky to have captured on film, should come out to support a game and the athletes and players who make every event memorable.
“It’s so amazing to watch all of these kids,” says Sheri. “They have so much fun, and they love each other so much.”
Guilford Art Center’s opening reception for both exhibitions is on Friday, May 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibits will continue to be available to view during regular gallery hours through Sunday, June 4. Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public. GAC is located at 411 Church Street. For more information, visit www.guilfordartcenter.org.