Seymour ties for 9th in first Unified track and field state finals appearance

INDIANAPOLIS

As she stood on the track waiting to anchor the girls 400-meter relay, Seymour High School sophomore Carly Kaiser was soaking in the experience of her first Unified track and field state finals.

Before the starting gun was fired, she and the relay anchors from other schools around the state were talking about how cool of an experience it was being there with their teammates and seeing how excited and positive everyone was.

That helped take the stress away from Kaiser’s only event during Saturday’s meet at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.

She wanted to do Unified track and field her first year of high school in 2020, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, this season was a go, and Seymour made history by qualifying for the state finals for the first time.

“Just having these bonds and friendships that I’ve created over this experience is awesome. It’s just an amazing experience,” Kaiser said after helping the Owls tie for ninth out of 12 teams.

“It’s honestly kind of emotional,” she said. “Being the first team from Seymour High School to qualify for state, it was awesome, and being able to place, too, was amazing.”

Saturday marked the seventh annual Unified track and field state finals. Unified Sports enables students with and without intellectual disabilities to participate on the same team for sports training and competition. The Champions Together partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana was launched in 2012.

Valparaiso, which won the last state finals in 2019, bested the field Saturday to take home its second title, accumulating 126 points.

Fishers was runner-up with 106 points, followed by Carroll (Fort Wayne) third with 103, South Bend John Adams fourth with 98 and Bloomington North fifth with 91 points.

The remaining results were Bedford North Lawrence sixth with 86, Columbia City seventh with 79, Jennings County eighth with 78, Seymour and Boonville tied for ninth with 77, Avon 11th with 74 and Kokomo 12th with 73.

Seymour’s sole first-place finisher was Ryan Elmore, who won his shot put flight with a throw of 40 feet, 7 inches. In another flight, Seymour’s David Engel placed fifth (29-11½) and Jose Rodriguez was seventh (27-9½). Eric Juarez Zarate was sixth in his flight (22-11½).

In the other field event, Cameron Cox and Elmore placed fourth in separate flights, going 17-6½ and 15-8, respectively, and Anne Lenart finished sixth and Caleb VonDielingen was seventh in their flight, jumping 6-7 and 4-8¾, respectively.

On the track, Levi Croquart had the best placing for the Owls, getting edged at the finish line of the 400-meter dash by Carroll’s Thomas O’Neil. The winning time was 58.31 seconds, and Croquart was next at 58.82.

Also in that section, Seymour’s Elijah Osborne placed fourth in 1:00.32. In separate flights, A.J. Engel was sixth in 1:15.67 and VonDielingen was fourth in 1:46.64.

The 100-meter dash saw Carter Hendrix take third in 13.05 and Osborne finish seventh in 13.76. Rodriguez placed fourth in a tight race in 15.76, and Keara Riley was seventh in her flight in 24.98.

Finally, the girls 400-meter relay team of Lenart, Samantha Carter, Riley and Kaiser placed fourth in 1:13.12, and the boys team of Hendrix, A.J. Engel, Zarate and Cox finished sixth in 56.02.

Cox, a senior, said it was fun anchoring the relay and competing in the long jump for the final time of his high school career.

“I really enjoyed the relay because I had a good bond with Eric and A.J. all year and Carter, and it was really nice to strengthen that bond,” he said. “I feel like I could have been better (in the long jump) today, but I was proud that I still got a pretty good jump by the end of it.”

Cox said he will remember the fun times with his teammates, including quotes from VonDielingen and Claire Carlson.

“It was really fun, a whole new experience. I haven’t been to state for anything. It’s nice, for sure,” he said. “I’d recommend (Unified track and field) for anyone who can do it in high school.”

Rodriguez, a junior, said his first state finals was memorable.

“When the coaches told me that we were going to state, I was so happy, and I told my mom and I told my dad,” he said, smiling. “It was exciting.”

Carter, a sophomore, said she’s glad she chose to join the team this spring.

“I’m not really a sporty person, but this really helps. I really enjoy doing this with (her teammates) and being able to help them,” she said. “It was very encouraging being able to lift them up and them lift us up. Just the friendships that I made, I’m just going to cherish those forever because they are just so sweet.”

Head coach Rachel Cain and assistant coach Amanda Neal were happy with the team’s unified effort.

“I was telling the kids they should be so proud of themselves. They are ninth in the state, which is awesome,” Cain said.

“It’s our first time making it to the state meet, so we really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Honestly, I just feel so proud of everybody individually and as a team, just the progress that everyone has made throughout the entire year, whether it’s just their sportsmanship or their attitude or in the actual events.”

Neal said it was good to see individuals and a relay team post personal records Saturday.

“It has just been amazing,” she said of the season. “It’s just indescribable.”

Seymour’s day started with a police escort from the school until the bus got out of town, and it ended with a top 10 finish in the state.

“Big thanks to all of the volunteers, parent volunteers, everybody from the school who supported Unified,” Cain said. “We got to see some faces of teachers outside the bus window this morning. It was super great just seeing how excited everybody was for today, just the buildup to today. It is a great group of kids and great families.”

The team will lose 11 seniors to graduation, but it will have a lot of returnees, and they want to recruit more students to get involved.

“Just by us going to state and with everybody getting to see what we’re capable of, this is what Unified is, hopefully, they’ll join because we’d love to keep building the program,” Cain said. “Like we told them, ‘This is a team sport, and all of you guys matter.’ It doesn’t matter what their job is here, they are all still a part of the team, and it’s a team sport, so we go on as a team, and we want more kids to join the team.”