Most educators would likely admit that "walking the walk" of inclusion is a trickier task than talking about the concept. And sometimes, it takes a watchful teacher or coach to put it all together on the ground in a way that a committee or an initiative can miss.

Most educators would likely admit that "walking the walk" of inclusion is a trickier task than talking about the concept. And sometimes, it takes a watchful teacher or coach to put it all together on the ground in a way that a committee or an initiative can miss.

Greg Kullman, the Bexley High School boys' soccer coach, saw that kind of opportunity a couple of years ago. He remembered a particular special education student from his days coaching elementary rec soccer. And he called up that kid, by then a Bexley Middle School student who had to dodge an unfair share of taunts and ridicule. He asked that kid to be team manager for the Bexley Lions soccer team in the season that they made the state Division II final four.

That kid was with the winning team every step of the way - his name announced with a flourish over the stadium public address system - ferrying paper cups of Gatorade to players exiting the field, huddling for team strategy sessions, helping hold the regional trophy aloft in the newspaper photo.

The next year, that kid started riding the bus with the soccer team, helping out at all the matches, even on the road. Introduced with each game's starting lineup, he shagged balls in the end zone during the pregame warm up and championed the team through ups and downs, proudly wearing a coach's shirt with the Lions logo embroidered on the left.

Of course we know that all students getting to participate in a wide range of activities presents a win-win for everyone. Students get to practice peer relationship skills, they learn that they can accomplish more when they're part of a team, and they become more tolerant and generous with those who are maybe a little different from them.

The social and emotional health of Bexley students is one of the district's top strategic priorities. Social/emotional chairpersons at every school come up with innovative programs to fit the culture of their buildings: peer mentors, students volunteering to welcome newcomers to the school community, various support groups and others.

Bexley staffers work very effectively with individual students participating in their classes or activities. BHS band director Andrew Johnson and assistant band director Bill Manchester, for instance, go out of their way to include and engage Bexley's special needs students, according to parents involved with the program. Johnson encourages his special needs students to give band their all: they attend every practice and performance, like the other students, and they certainly get the same satisfaction from "wearing the uniform" and performing for an audience.

Johnson tries to make sure that Bexley's special needs students have that feeling of belonging to the program, regardless of their musical ability.

"But the really cool part is watching how the other students embrace and support their peers," he said, describing how one of his drum line musicians recently loaded his own iPod with a fellow musician's favorite tunes, lending it to the classmate to get him pumped for their performance that night.

This fall, Coach Kullman's soccer kid, now in high school, is just part of the landscape of the team. So when one player announces after a team meeting, "let's go to CVS," that kid - the one who has never even been out to lunch in his years in Bexley, who rarely hangs out after school with anybody - jumps in the car along with the other team members and makes the trip to blow his money on soft drinks and candy.

"It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's huge," said his parent. Sometimes there's particular sweet joy at just being one of the guys.