Friendships, memories at the core of Unified teams

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Jasper's Jordan Preston, left, competes in the 100-meter dash during Saturday's Unified track and field sectional in Jasper. Preston had an impressive performance at Saturday's meet in the shot put event, winning his heat with a distance of 33'11''. The Wildcats placed second overall in the sectional which qualified them for a berth in next Saturday's regional meet at Bedford North Lawrence.


At the conclusion of Saturday’s Unified track and field sectional at Jasper High School, if you took a quick glance around it was almost a guarantee that all you were going to see was smiling faces.

It didn’t matter where they placed in their individual events in the meet or what the final score their team totaled, competitors from a wide variety of schools were laughing and joking with one another at the conclusion of the event — it was hard to tell a competition took place at all.

“I didn’t see a single person upset or disappointed — everyone here had a lot of fun,” said Joe Shelton, one of the coaches of Jasper’s Unified track and field team. “These kids get excited whether they’re in tenth place or first place, it’s the only sporting event where no one leaves unhappy.”

While the Jasper track and field team was unable to defend their sectional title (they placed second to Mount Vernon), they still advanced to next weekend’s regional at Bedford North Lawrence. Southridge, the only other local team in the event, placed fourth overall — just one spot shy of a regional berth.

However, the final results weren’t the most important thing on Saturday afternoon. What took the spotlight is the support that all of the athletes provided one another from event to event.

“You don’t even really know who is on what team unless you look at their uniforms,” said Kendra Klem, one of the Southridge Unified track and field coaches. “Everyone is just cheering for each other, it’s not like other sports where you have rivals. We’re all in this together.”

Just because the individual results may not have been the main aspect of Saturday’s event, that’s not to say that several local athletes performed exceptionally well.

In the 100m dash, Jasper’s Adam Nordhoff won his respective heat with a time of 15.05. Jasper also had another champion in the 400m dash as Quentin Harmon won his heat with a final time of 56.35

Harmon got to know a lot of the Jasper special needs students through a program called Topsoccer — a community-based training and team placement program for athletes with disabilities. From there, it was only natural that he helped out with his friends on the Wildcats’ Unified track and field program.

“It’s just a really good feeling — this sectional means just as much to them as it does any other athlete at our school,” Harmon said. “I think it’s a lot of fun to watch them get better as the season goes on and just win right alongside them.”

The Wildcats also had a few other athletes win their respective heats — Klayton Mundy was victorious in the third flight for the long jump with a distance of 9’.25’’ while Jordan Preston dominated his heat in the shot put with a distance of 33’11’’.

Preston also competed in the 100m dash with, as he described it, “some of his best friends”. But it’s safe to say Preston was rather excited after his impressive performance in the shot put.

Southridge's Kylie Schepers, left, and Alison Bromm play a hand clapping game during Saturday's Unified track and field sectional in Jasper. While the actual races and events may have been the focal point of Saturday's sectional, it was clear that the friendships made along the way were just as important (if not more) than the meet itself.

“You’ve got bad days and you have good days,” Preston said. “I got all the good days by winning.”

There was also another stellar local performance in the shotput as Southridge’s Josh Braunecker was victorious in his flight with a distance of 19’5’’ — a new personal best.

While Braunecker prefers the running events, he admits he was excited to tell his friends back at school about his feat at Saturday’s sectional.

“Oh yeah — I knew it was a good distance when I got first in my heat,” Braunecker said. “I just love being around my friends and being able to do the sport I love.”

Of course the athletes will remember their accomplishments for a long time but what the coaches are hoping lasts longer is the bonds they create with the teammates around them.

Judging from the friendly smiles, high-fives and even dancing seen at Saturday’s sectional it looks like a lot of those bonds have already been created.

“We had some kids from last year’s team come out and support and to me, that’s what this is all about,” Shelton said. “What happens on the track is great but those friendships are the big things — those are people they’ll have for life.”

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