Seymour Unified program back on track in 2021


Whether he was soaring toward the long jump pit, striding out for the 400-meter dash or leading off the 400-meter relay team, A.J. Engel gave it his all and had fun in the process.

Helping the relay team win boosted the point total for Seymour High School’s Unified track and field team, and the Owls defeated visiting Columbus North 145-125 in the season opener at Bulleit Stadium.

When he heard the final score, Engel expressed his excitement with his teammates. Shortly after, he was still pumped up.

“It feels good. It feels great, man. It feels wonderful to be back,” the junior said, referring to the Indiana High School Athletic Association-sanctioned Unified program getting going again this year after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These coaches are great. They teach me a lot about this team and what this team means to me. It means a lot,” Engel said. “I’m really excited today to pick up the W.”

Seymour head coach Rachel Cain said it was a huge disappointment not getting to compete last year. The team had several practices before the season and all other IHSAA spring sports were canceled.

“We were pretty nervous coming into it,” she said of the April 7 season opener. “Just with COVID all year this year, we’ve had quarantine after quarantine. We had some missing athletes tonight, as well, and just trying to fit all of the practices in, get everything filled out and continue the safety at practice for all of our students.”

This year’s team consists of 34 athletes, including students with and without intellectual disabilities.

“We really didn’t have a big decline as I thought we would,” Cain said. “Overall, we’ve had a great turnout, and we had a lot of kids come back who have been a part of the program in years past, and they’ve really stepped up this year and led the group.”

She said it has been good to see the experienced athletes help the newcomers.

“Some of them, they can be goofy and funny, and at school, I may never see them, but the moment they step on this track with these kids, they are here for the right reasons absolutely,” Cain said.

Seniors Carter Hendrix and Elijah Osborne are among the returning athletes, having last competed in 2019.

They didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to participate in Unified track and field in their final year of high school.

“It’s just fun all around to be around them,” Hendrix said of his teammates. “Everybody cheers each other on. It brightens your day a lot more than anything really would.”

Osborne likes seeing the work in practice translate to meets.

“I think it’s fun to really work on the relays and teach them how to hand off and just all around be around them and see the smiles. I think it’s a nice thing,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm around it, and it’s just a happy atmosphere to be around. It just makes me happy to look forward to something after school and just really make new friends as I’m doing it and just make lifelong memories.”

Junior Samantha Foster also is happy to be back on the track this season after competing her freshman year.

“I just get to hang out with my friends, and the coaches are awesome. They take good care of all of us,” she said. “Everybody continues to grow, and some people just started long jumping and they are already improving by great increments, so we’re just continuing to get faster and better at all of our events.”

New to Unified track and field are senior Lauren Knieriem and freshmen Angelina Ortiz and Eric Juarez Zarate.

Knieriem was practicing with the team in 2020 before the season ended, so she’s glad to finally get to participate.

“Last year, I started to be able to establish connections with all of these people, and it was really sad when we couldn’t stay together all of the time anymore,” she said. “So this year, it has just really created even more of a sense of family, I would say, because everybody is just super excited to be back and cheering everybody on, so it’s great, it’s awesome.”

She expects everyone to improve as the season continues.

“I think that we’ll just continue to get better, so that’s super exciting because that’s something that everybody looks forward to,” Knieriem said. “But I also really look forward to becoming even closer with my teammates and everybody else because we’ve already become so close, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Ortiz competed in the 100-meter dash and shot put in the first meet and said she liked running and competing alongside her friends.

Zarate ran the third leg of the winning relay and also threw the shot put.

“The relay, I always like to go faster, and I always throw the shot put,” he said. “I enjoy the rest of the guys and hanging out.”

This spring, the Owls hope to build off of the success of the 2019 season when they placed second in the sectional and advanced to regional for the first time. They expected to go to the state meet but only had 13 athletes available to compete at regional and placed 12th.

Seymour hopes to return to regional in 2021 and be among the top six at regional to move on to state.

“We’re really hoping to be on the journey to state this year,” Cain said. “We’re hoping with the state tournament this year, we can just keep going along. That’s definitely our hope.”

Cain is assisted by Amanda Neal, Alanie Flack and Valerie Reitman, while Jessica Floyd handles announcing and organizing the home meets, and parent club members Jan Engel and Sophi Foster help in various ways at the meets.

“They’ve been a tremendous help, and we’re just really thankful to have such great people to surround our athletes,” Cain said of her group of volunteers.

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