EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – The crack of a gun. The cheers of the crowd. The thrill of competition.
These three ingredients are common place at any track and field event, but at Unified track meets, they mean just a little bit more. Unified meets give special needs athletes the chance to compete alongside other student-athletes in events, just like any other sport.
Unified track teams are sanctioned by the IHSAA, and are featured around Evansville and the state of Indiana.
“The kids aren’t just isolated in a certain area,” said North coach Karen Maxey. “They get out and the kids see them, they know them. They all get to enjoy each other and build friendships.”
“It’s good to see the kids get out,” said Bosse coach Heather Madriaga. “It’s good for them to have the interaction. They like the competitive side of it. But more than anything, it’s just to be around other peers in similar situations.”
Meets like the one today at North featured Bosse and Boonville. Although competition is one element of the Unified events, comradery and encouragement is at the forefront.
“Everybody cheers for everybody. And that’s one of the facets of this sport that I really enjoy,” said Boonville coach Jimmy Williams.
“There’s a lot of support from the gen-ed kids that are at the schools,” Madriaga continued. “When you have that kind of thing, it makes these kids feel that they’re actually involved in athletics and sports.”
North’s volleyball team was in attendance on Thursday, cheering the athletes to victory. After every jump, handoff and cross of the finish line, a round of applause or high five isn’t far away.
“There’s no bigger honor than to be cheered on by your friends, your school mates, other schools. It’s just a very big honor,” said Boonville senior Robert Wilkerson.
“That’s a lot of help,” said North athlete Levi Riges of the fan’s encouragement. “With a lot of help comes a lot of responsibility. And with a lot of responsibility comes lots of love. With lots of love, comes family.”
That sense of family transcends any mental or physical handicap. And shows athletes, and all of us, just how rewarding life can be when we’re all unified.
(This story was originally published on April 15, 2021)