Unified track team allows players with, without disabilities to compete together, promotes acceptance, inclusion

Team member: "I don't see them as any different from me"
By Lydia Goerner | May 19, 2017
Courtesy of: Andrea Schwamb Students on the high school's unified team practice and compete together, regardless of ability.

Wareham High School’s first unified track team has been picking up speed this season, successfully garnering interest from athletes with and without special needs.

The school began the team for students with disabilities and without to work together in track and field. The team began competing in April, started by coach Megan Kashner, who has been a coach at the high school for 11 years.

“We’ve had 100 percent support,” Kashner said. Salerno’s Function Hall hosted a comedy show to raise money and support for the team.

There are 14 students currently on the unified team, nine with special needs, typically intellectual disabilities, who are called “athletes” and five without, called “partners.” The goal is for the team to eventually be divided equally between athletes and partners.

The unified track team is a branch of the Special Olympics, but Kashner explained it is different because it encourages all to work together on the same team, rather than separating by ability.

There are no tryouts to join the team. It is inclusive, encouraging anyone with interest who is not already on a varsity team to join.

“It brings people together,” Kashner said. “There’s no real distinction.”

Alexis Adams, a senior and one of the partners on the team, said the program fosters organic relationships between teammates.

“We’re all one family, team atmosphere,” Adams said. “We’re all aiming for the same thing.”

Adams said being on the team has shown her how much she has in common with students who have special needs.

“It’s super eye opening,” Adams said. “Some people are scared because they don’t know anyone with disabilities. But I don’t see them as any different from me. They’re my friends.”

Adams has even found she can relate to the students with special needs in ways she did not expect.

“I love seeing the joy that reverberates from them,” Adams said. “I know that feeling of wanting to be accepted...it’s like they’re on top of the world.”

Other partners on the team have found it to be fulfilling as well. Gwen Miceli, a junior on the team, said being on the track and field team gives students with special needs something to look forward to at the end of the school day.

“I strongly believe everyone should be a part of at least one team in their life,” Miceli said. “The smiles on their faces after they beat their personal record is literally the best thing to me too. Seeing them being proud of not only themselves but each other just makes everyone happy and have a good time.”

Girls track coach Christopher Gardner said he has been amazed at how accepting and enthusiastic the girls on his team have been about the unified team.

“Many kids don’t have classes with them, so this way they get to mingle,” Gardner said. “A lot of people don’t get to interact with all the different kids in the school.”

Four track meets are held each season. The unified team will compete in south sectionals this Tuesday against about a dozen other teams.

Next season, Kashner said her focus will be on growing the team now that people have seen what they are all about. The experience coaching the unified team has been rewarding for her as she has seen students grow.

“People can see [students with disabilities] in a different way,” Kashner said. “They’re just like them. They’re capable of anything.”

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