Students with and without intellectual disabilities run and compete together in a program that’s catching on across the country. It’s called the Unified Track Program and it emphasizes more than just winning medals. Homestead High School is one of three in Fort Wayne that offers the program.
“We all run together and everyone competes and it’s just one big track team.” said Sam McArdle. The senior is one of three student leaders of Homestead’s 50-member unified track team. “I’m partially our leader so I help run meetings and things like that. I’m also a partner athlete so I compete in the races themselves and the events.”
McArdle and other students partner with those with disabilities. One of them is classmate Kenyon Schaeffer. “They do a very good job,” said Schaeffer. “It’s actually kind of helpful to help them do stuff and just have a fun time. It’s great.”
“Unified Track is a partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics and it’s set up so that students with or without disabilities are competing in track events,” said Michelle Hoffacker, a special needs teacher in charge of Homestead’s Unified Track team. Hoffacker says the program started at the state level four years ago. Homestead has been part of it for the last three. “Last year there were over 100 unified track teams,” said Hoffacker. “They work hard. It’s good for them physically to have that activity but all those things we work on relate to socialization and communication. Those things will help them be better members of their community after they leave Homestead.”
The Unified Track team is a separate group from Homestead’s traditional teams. “We’re one of the track programs,” said Hoffacker. “We have boys track, we have girls track and we have unified track and our students letter in the sport.” Students also win medals in contests with other schools around the city and state. “We’re competing against other schools that are also unified track and it’s set up that it’s based on your ability, not your disability,” said Hoffacker
So regardless of how far they throw, how long they jump or how fast they run, the main emphasis of the program is how much students learn, grow, communicate and help others. “It’s so much fun,” said McArdle. “It’s probably the most fun thing I’ve done throughout all of high school. “You’re helping people but you’re also helping yourself by learning how to work with different people and you’re rewarding yourself for having a good time. You just feel good about doing something like this.”
On Tuesday, May 8th at 5:30 p.m. a Unified Track meet will be held at North Side High School at 475 East State Boulevard in Fort Wayne. A sectional meet will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19th at Bremen High School in Bremen, Indiana. The regional meet will be held Saturday, May 26th at Kokomo High School. State Finals will be held Saturday, June 2nd at 1 p.m. in Bloomington.
In addition to Homestead High School, Carroll High School and North Side High School also have Unified Track programs in Fort Wayne. They compete against Central Noble, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, LaVille, Northwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Warsaw Community and Wawasee school districts.