By Tara Martin | Reporter
The regular season of track and field is beginning at Avon High School and with it comes Unified Track; a track team sponsored by IHSAA and the Special Olympics, for students at Avon High School with mental, physical and emotional disabilities or who are not on regular graduation tracks. Unified Track grants these students the unique opportunity of participating in a sport and becoming more involved with the community.
Assistant Coach Abby Neal said that the start of the season heavily focuses on the basics of track and field.
“The first month or so we’ll just be practicing ‘how do you run?’ or ‘what is long jump?’ so you don’t injure yourself. We’ll just practice that and some of the more mechanical sides of track and field,” Neal said. “Once we get into April and after Spring Break we’ll start training for our meets.”
Jake Shepard, sophomore and Unified Track athlete, said that practices run twice a week.
“We’ll do our warm-ups, usually,” Shepard said. “Then we’ll do a little workout, and then we’ll play a game and be done. We play line tag a lot and line tag is pretty fun.”
Neal said that everyone participates and every roster includes 50% students with disabilities and 50% general education students. All students are seeded for meets based on their times and ability.
“It’s not divided or anything like that. Everyone is competing against each other and because they do the seeding, it puts everyone in different heats that are closer to their ability levels.” Neal said.
Shepard said that the Unified Track meets run at select track and field meets and while there is a competitive nature, the general education students are there to support and help their teammates.
“It’s a little bit more laid back because everybody is just there for the athletes and we’re all just there to help out.” Shepard said.
According to Shepard, Unified Track allows athletes to participate and try all events but most eventually specialize in a few specific events.
“They’ll do a little bit of everything because there are only so many events we do in Unified Track. We don’t do every event,” Shepard said. “The coach will rotate athletes around so they get to do everything, but usually by the time we do sectionals you’re a little more select on the event you’d like to do. But during the regular season, you get to see what you like.”
Shepard said that his teammates and their impact on him are the reason he runs Unified Track.
“I had a really fun time last year so I feel like I’d be letting them down if I didn’t come back,” Shepard said. “They’ve really opened my eyes up and I feel really connected to some of the kids I’ve met there. They’ve really changed my perspective on some things.”
Neal said that because of Unified Track, she is more mindful of others and values higher expectations.
“If you set expectations then everybody will rise to meet them no matter who they are. Getting there might be different for everybody but they will meet them and they will probably exceed them,” Neal said. “When I interact with people, I think about that and what other students are going through and setting those expectations and then knowing that the path to meeting them is going to be different.”