Seymour High School unified track and field season underway

For Rachel Cain, a highlight was watching an athlete run the 400-meter dash.

“It’s a long run, and he never stopped,” she said. “He kept going, pushing through.”

For Jessica Floyd, the last 100-meter dash race was heartwarming seeing peers running down the straightaway with the special needs kids, including one in a wheelchair.

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“That’s a group effort there because there are a lot of peers out there helping in that race. That’s why you do it,” she said.

Then to top off the night, the boys 400-meter relay team won. The coaches overheard one of the peers say how awesome it was to hand off the baton to one of the special needs students.

Judging by those moments, the season-opening meet for the Seymour High School unified track and field team was one to remember.

The second year of the program kicked off April 4 against Columbus North at Bulleit Stadium.

In 2018, Seymour High School joined the Unified Sports program, which is a joint effort between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana that offers an opportunity for students with and without disabilities to compete in an IHSAA-sanctioned activity.

Floyd coached last year, but this is Cain’s first year as a coach. Amanda Neal is assisting.

The team’s remaining meets are Tuesday at Jennings County, April 24 at Columbus North, conference April 27 at Columbus East, May 6 home against Columbus East and Bedford North Lawrence and sectional May 18 at Borden. They also practice a few times a week.

Competing in unified track and field and ending the season in good standing will result in the awarding of a varsity letter.

This year’s Seymour team has 40 members, which is a big jump from last year’s 17 active members.

“I think the kids from last year really enjoyed it and talked it up,” Floyd said. “I know one of our athletes, he had a friend that was on the East unified team, and his friend loved it so much, so he wanted to join our unified team. I think word of mouth between schools also helped out.”

Cain teaches a lot of the special needs students in the Academy class, so she was glad to be asked to help coach.

“I think it has just been remarkable,” she said of the team growth. “We wondered if they were all going to stay, and then they just kept growing and growing, and word of mouth got around, ‘Oh, my friend loves it. I want to try it out.’ We’ve had so many kids that have come out, tried it out and absolutely loved it.”

Seeing the athletes go from practices to competing in the first meet was fun for the coaches.

“It’s a lot of fun to see their smiles, all of the hard work that they’ve put into it,” Floyd said. “To see their smile on their face if they make the jump or they make a throw or finish a race, it’s really cool.”

Athletes can compete in the 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 400-meter relay, shot put or long jump.

“I just thought it was great when they were crossing the finish line, they were excited,” Cain said. “They were jumping farther, and the official over there (at the long jump it) would say, ‘Wow! You got so much farther this time,’ and they were like, ‘Yes!’ Just all of the excitement and the smiles on everybody’s faces, including having the other track teams here cheering us on for our dashes and for the long jump and stuff, I feel like that gave a lot of momentum.”

Sophomore Jeremiah Griffin is in his second year on the team. At the first meet, he threw the shot put and ran the 100-meter dash.

He said he joined the team again this year to throw the shot put and have something to do. His favorite part is getting to compete with the peers.

Freshman A.J. Engel is new to the team.

“I started out regular track and I didn’t do so well, so I thought I could do unified, and I’m doing really good at it,” he said.

Against Columbus North, he competed in the long jump and 400-meter relay.

“Sometimes, it’s hard,” he said. “A couple of people beat me tonight. I came out, I thought I had it and I just gave it all my best. If you have a bad night, you can fix it the next meet.”

Engel said it was fun being a part of the winning relay team.

“It shows character, and if you don’t have character, then you don’t have what you need,” he said. “It allows you to have good teamwork.”

He said he is excited about competing the rest of the season.

“Just work hard in practice and make the coaches happy, make my school happy and just win races and see what happens,” Engel said.

Seniors Cole Fosbrink and Addison Wingler are serving as peers this season. Fosbrink said he used to be on a school track and field team, but Wingler is totally new to the sport.

“I used to do track and quit, and this is a way to get back into it, but even in a more positive way than running regular track,” Fosbrink said.

“I’m not doing my spring sport this year that I did last year, so then I always wanted to do track, and I felt like this is a good way to just put my foot in the water and get started with it,” Wingler said.

In the opening meet, Fosbrink did the 100-meter dash and 400-meter relay.

“The best part was the relay when I was handing it off to a kid named Peyton (O’Donnell),” he said. “You see a smile on his face as you’re handing it to him. It’s amazing.”

Wingler competed in the shot put.

“The kids that I’m over there with, they really, really try their best, and it’s really awesome to see when they get more of a distance on their throws and get better throws because they really, really enjoy it,” she said.

“Any time I see them succeed and excel, it’s awesome with the biggest smiles on their faces,” she said. “They inspire me because they are out here doing this, so that makes me want to try harder and be a good example for them and just show them the way.”

Both seniors are looking forward to the rest of the season.

“I really want to be in the conference and do some really good things in the conference,” Wingler said.

“That would mean the world to them just to see us win,” Fosbrink said.

For the coaches, being around the team allows them to see the students in a different way.

“A lot of these students that are on the team, I have in class in some shape or form, and so I get to see them in a different light,” said Floyd, a family and consumer sciences teacher at the high school. “I get to see them in a competitive setting. I also get to see them interacting with different peers, and so that’s really neat for me to get to see them in more of a full circle rather than just sitting in a chair in a classroom.”

Cain likes building relationships with the students and their families.

“It makes it more of a family setting in our family community in our classroom because they know ‘Mrs. Cain is going to be at track tonight. She’s going to be cheering me on,’” she said.

“Then with the peers, these are some kids I’ve never even seen, and just the fact that I know that there are other students at Seymour High School that actually care about what’s going on in the Academy and they want to volunteer their time and they want to compete and they are great competitors, I’ve gotten to see a lot of different points of view.”

Neal, who works in the Academy classroom, said she cried a few times during the first meet, but they were good tears.

“I love it because they’re different out here,” she said of the students. “They are not like in the classroom. They are different, and then to see them interact with other kids, that’s just awesome.”