IHSAA plans unified track tournament

From Local Sources

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has further enhanced its “Champions Together” partnership with Special Olympics Indiana by announcing it will sanction a unified track and field event set for the spring of 2014.

This most recent collaborative effort allows IHSAA-member schools to form teams composed equally of students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete for a state championship in unified track and field.

Schools will be able to individually schedule regular-season competitions next spring before state tournament competition. Two sectional meets — one north and one south — will be run Friday, May 30, and Saturday, May 31, at centrally located host sites with all participants then advancing to the state championship meet Saturday, June 7. That event will be held in conjunction with and take place just prior to the start of the boys track state finals in Bloomington.

Events included will be the 100-meter dash, 400 dash, 400 relay, shot put and long jump.

Special Olympics Indiana will provide technical support to schools participating in unified track and field, as well as financial grants to a number of schools to assist with startup costs.

“The approval by the IHSAA executive committee for a unified track and field event is a beginning step in the evolving culture of inclusion between the IHSAA and our partners at Special Olympics Indiana,” IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox said in a statement. “It is a humbling opportunity to collaborate with one of our state’s most important organizations in the creation of an event that will certainly stand as a historic benchmark for both groups. It seems fitting and proper that the first inclusive sport recognized by the IHSAA is track and field — also the first sport recognized by the IHSAA in 1903.”

Michael Furnish, Special Olympics Indiana president and CEO, applauded the tourney’s creation.
“Decades after people eligible for Special Olympics were brought into public education, they now have new opportunities to bring their competitive spirit and positive attitude to contribute through sports to their schools,” he said.

The Unified Sports program enables youngsters with and without intellectual disabilities to participate on the same team for sports training and competition. Special Olympics Indiana is considered a world leader in the development of Unified Sports programs, having conducted a pilot test in 1989, and since has developed an all-inclusive approach with Unified competition featured in virtually all represented sports.

In 1992, Connecticut became the first state in which an official partnership was formed between Special Olympics and a state high school athletic association. Following the lead of Connecticut, Maryland, Arizona, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have since formed similar programs.

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