Under a bill Gov. Chris Christie signed into law Thursday, New Jersey schools are now required to allow students with disabilities to sign up for and take part in extracurricular sports programs.

Governor's Office, Tim Larsen

The timing couldn't be better, as New Jersey plays host this week to the Special Olympics. Several participating athletes were on hand for the bill signing in Christie's outer office at the State House.

The governor said everybody should have the chance to play school sports. He said he learned valuable lessons about teamwork and leadership while playing baseball and other sports.

"All of those lessons, I've used both in my academic career after that and in my professional career," Christie said. "Unfortunately, some folks have been excluded from participating in sports activities for a variety of stereotypical reasons."

The prime sponsor of the legislation in New Jersey's upper house was Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). His 21-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and she's competing this week in the Special Olympics as a member of the soccer team.

"It's never, ever about winning and losing," Sweeney said. "It's about competing."

There are exclusions in the bill that allow for schools to restrict a student with a disability from taking part in physical education programs, but in the event of these exceptions, the school is required to make a reasonable effort to provide the student with an alternative opportunity in an existing adapted or unified sports program.

"This is about sports," said Tim Shriver, Special Olympics chairman. "It is about basketball. It is about hoping to win, but it is also about a dignity revolution. This is also a human rights and a civil rights issue."