Inclusion Wins Big!
Sports, Track

Inclusion Wins Big!

By Jackson Teal

A smile can tell the story.

You may think you need to win to be happy. For some, just being there and getting to compete like everyone else exhilarates them.

For most of the 25 Unified Track athletes this spring, the win doesn’t matter to them. Instead, all they care about is the joy it brings them. 

 “Everybody deserves to feel that feeling of being in the spotlight,” general education unified track athlete Jacob Snodgrass said. “I think they’re often left out and kind of just looked over, but they’re humans too, and they deserve that sense of competition just like everyone else.”

Unified Track combines general education and special needs students to compete in track and field events. Their combined scores earn them placement points and possibly a win.

Fun with the squad
Kolten Rhonemus and Jacob Snodgrass hang with their unified friends, Savannah Shockley and Collin Vance. (Photo Provided)

In previous years, there have been some troubles in the competition, however. They have not had enough players to field a full team. This didn’t give them the opportunity to score as many points as other teams.

This year that’s not the case at all. Their numbers have skyrocketed with 12 new members.

“It is a great way to join different athletes together to serve a common purpose for all athletes,” assistant coach Kurt Griffis said.

The team started with only six members in 2017, 

”We were the ‘motley crew’ and we were tiny but we were mighty,” head coach Amanda Lewis said. “The plan all along, however, was for it to eventually grow to what it is now.”

Original team
This unified track team photo from 2017 shows the original squad of just six members. Now the team has grown to 25 participants. (Photo Provided)

That plan has come to fruition. A large factor in the growth has been senior general education athlete Ryne Brown. 

“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t hide my personality and I was extremely proud to be on the team,” Ryne said. “I promoted the team all offseason and I think people caught on to how good of a cause it is.”

Ryne’s family has a history of working with those with special needs beginning with his grandmother, Cheryl Brown, who had a position at Hillcroft Services Inc.. This is a local company whose mission is to support people with disabilities after high school. 

Ryne’s connection has strengthened in recent years with his involvement in unified track.
He suffered a torn labrum causing him to not be able to throw shot put on the school’s varsity track team.

“It was kind of a blessing in disguise for me,” Ryne said. “It changed my life in many ways I wouldn’t have expected.”

The friendships have extended outside of the track.

He has made many strong connections with several of the special-ed athletes. One bond that he has formed that sticks out from the rest is with fellow senior Savannah Shockley.

Ryne and Savannah have shared many special moments with each other over the years including getting to be nominated and experiencing Homecoming court together for the first time. 

Homecoming court
Savannah Shockley waves to the study body as she and Ryne Brown are introduced as part of the Homecoming court. They are teammates on the unified track team. (Photo by Emma Carrigan)

Even though the plan may not have always been to participate in peer tutoring and unified track it has taught him many lessons. 

“I feel like they humble me and make me appreciate what I have, even ground me a little bit,” Brown said.

Brown hopes to pass on some of these lessons to a couple of the new members.

A sophomore wrestling teammate and friend to Ryne is Kaid Jackson, who recently joined the team with the influence of Ryne.

“He opened my eyes to the cause and the joy it brings people,” Jackson said. “ I wouldn’t have ever done it without him.”

Brown and teammates began workouts on March 18 and will practice three times a week up until the first meet on April 24 at Hamilton Heights.

Freshman Jayden Carter will compete. He is new to track this year. He may be new to competing but he’s always enjoyed the sensation of running and how it makes him feel. 

“Whenever I am running I feel like everything goes away,” Jayden said. “It’s just kind of my calm space.”

His passion for running comes with a sense of competition that runs in the family.

His brother, Landon Carter, will be a teammate this season.

“Jayden has a calendar ticking off the days until it starts,” assistant coach Lauren Griffis said. “They (Jayden and Landon) are pretty pumped up. It’s all they talk about it seems like.”

The excitement doesn’t end with the athletes, however. Head coaches Amanda Lewis and Zoie Twibell are ready for the season.

“I love my job most days, but I really love unified track,” Lewis said. “… It’s my favorite thing that I do. I look forward to it all year.”

The event allows students of all types to be involved and capture the essence of high school sports. 

“It (high school sports) teaches you the things you’re supposed to learn how to do,” assistant coach Mrs. Griffis said. ”Stand in a line, cheer on your teammates, and be happy for them when they accomplish something”

Unified track has many traits that separates it from the rest. When students put their name down on the sign up sheet in late January, it could be a decision that has an impact on them for the rest of their life.

The athletes will have five guaranteed meets up until sectionals on May 18.

“Everybody comes to the other sports events,” Brown said. “These guys are athletes, too, so they need that support. Everyone should show up. There is nothing like it.”

You can see that in the smiles.

April 10, 2024

About Author

Jackson Teal

jacksonteal Jackson Teal is a freshman at Delta High School. This is his first year in journalism. Jackson wrestles and likes hanging out with his friends. His dream college is Notre Dame.


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