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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The Unified Track Team sprints into the new season with inclusivity in mind

Provided by Laney Mach
Unified track pose for a team photo

Inclusivity at WA has been one of the core ideals the school strives for. Students have made clubs promoting diversity and equality but never an all-inclusive sports team until this year. Now, with the creation of United Track and Field, WA has a sports program that is accommodating to all students, helping make WA an inclusive place for everybody.

For Athletic Director Jeff Bunyon, creating this program had always been an aspiration. After hearing that Unified Track was an MIAA recognized sport, Bunyon was eager to put together a program for the athletes even if he was unsure about all the entities of the program.

“‘How would it work? Do we have enough? Do we have the athletes available for it?’ There were just a lot of unknowns for me, but it is something I really believe in,” Bunyon said.”It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the students.”

Unified Track and Field is a program in which intellectually disabled athletes run in track and field event with the aid of athletic mentors.

“We want to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable and everyone can participate in what they want in,” junior mentor Laney Mach said. “Everyone comes to Unified Track knowing this is the hour after school where they can give back to their community and enjoy themselves.”

Before starting the season, the two program leaders, educational support teacher Joe Van Gelder and special education aid Tadgh Murray, worked with members of the Unified Sports in Boston, Massachusetts to learn about leading a Unified Track team.

“They gave us information, some videos, some training supplies,” Gelder said. “That was kind of giving us the rules and what we need to do on our end because we are still new to the whole program, we are still figuring it out.”

Bunyon first talked to the Best Buddies Club at WA that works with the intellectually disabled students after school doing different activities over the course of the school year. The Best Buddy members were excited to step up and get the team running. They also involved some students to become program leaders as well as mentors for the athletes.

With both mentors and athletes making up the team, the Unified Track and Field team was able to begin practices and meets in early April. According to Mach, they practice Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with Monday afternoons typically  being competition days. They have had three meets so far against Lincoln-Sudury, and a double meet against Acton-Boxborugh & Concord-Carlisle and Cambridge Ridge & Latin.

With the team already halfway through their season, some big unknowns for both Bunyon and the leaders were running the track meets This came as a result of modified  accommodations that needed to be met, and also keeping the environment safe for athletes and mentors.

“We have run track meets before but it’s modified slightly. It’s just different and we were concerned but I took a deep breathe and said, ‘I’m sure it will take care of itself”,” Bunyon said. “And it did. The Track and Field kids helped out in measuring the distance in the shot-put and helped out with javelin […] which overall helped with the teams success.”

During their first home meet last on April 22, Mach saw all the hard work shine through in creating the team when all the athletes ran  their races. She felt proud of what they had accomplished, mentioning senior Harshal Nookala in particular.

“After Harshal finished his race, he just looked at me and gave me the biggest hug and said ‘I did it!’ he was so happy. And that is when I realized it was all worth it,” Mach said.

The Unified Track & Field team has brought together many people, with many of the athletes and mentors making new friends. They have also grown as athletes, getting faster and working on their speed and agility throughout the season to help them become better track and field athletes.

The athletes also shared memories that made the meets special. For the athletes, one of the most special moments has been getting to run with their parents and friends, such as senior Eric Godfroy who loves running with Mach and junior Leah Bordenca.

Overall, the athletes have experienced a great team environment filled with happiness and support from the coaches and mentors helping them to become better athletes. When asked about the expansion of the program at WA, Bunyon said it was a possibility.

“Perhaps, the two sports that have excelled in unified sports are track and field and basketball. And we will look to try to do basketball. But that’s something that would be down the road,” Bunyon said.

Looking forward, the team would like to promote the program’s initiative throughout WA.

“We want to promote the inclusiveness of everyone and try to make sure everyone has an opportunity regardless of their disability,” Bunyon said. “To make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in athletics and to show the overall school spirit.”

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Sophia Williams
Sophia Williams, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Sophia Williams and I’m a sophomore at WA. This is my first year on the Ghostwriter as a staff writer and couldn't be more excited! I love to play lacrosse, field hockey and sail in my free time. I've loved skiing as a little kid and I'm co-president of ski club in WA. I can't wait to learn all about journalism and look forward to a great year!

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