Walpole Competes at Unified Track Championship

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Walpole High students participating in this season of Unified Track and Field

Meghan O'Meara

Walpole High students participating in this season of Unified Track and Field
Walpole High students participated in this season of Unified Track and Field on May 20 (Photo/ Max Simons).

   After two regular season meets, Walpole Unified Track and Field competed in the Southern League Unified Track and Field Championship at Sharon High School on Wednesday, May 20.  Ms. April Zyirek, the Special Education Department Chairperson and Program Coordinator, and WHS Special Education Teacher, Mrs. Mary Caine, worked together to implement the program this year for the first time ever.  With approximately 24 students, Walpole Unified Track and Field had the largest team in the Southern League at the Championship Meet.

  “We also had a large group of faculty and staff who volunteered, along with spectators who have come to the meets to support the team,” said Mrs. Caine.

  The  Unified Team practiced about once a week; however, Physical Education and Health Teacher Quinn Geary practiced all of the events with the students during their PE classes. The Educational Support Personnel in the Career and Education Program also worked hard to prepare students in PE.

WHS Junior Theresa Swindlehurst, an  active member in the Best Buddies program and a student partner on the team—participated in the 100 meter dash and shot put. Swindlehurst enjoyed participating in Unified Track and felt that she benefitted from being on the team.

“It helped me have more patience and be able to better understand people with disabilities,” she said.  “It also made me realize they are just as good at sports as everyone else.”

Special Olympic athlete Courtney Waters, who participated in relay races, javelin, and shot put, had a great experience with unified track.

“Amire Loftis and I were the best team— he was the fastest one out there, and I like to win,” said Waters.

Both Waters and Swindlehurst plan on participating next year. To any WHS student interested in joining the team, Swindlehurst said, “Make sure you can commit fully and really bond with the students. That way, everyone in the group can grow to their fullest potential.”

After the decision had been made in the fall of 2014 to bring Unified Track and Field to Walpole High, Ms. Zyriek applied for a grant through Special Olympics to get the team started and received $2000.00 grant money for the first year. Hoping to raise more funding, the Special Education Department also reached out to parents for donations.

Susan Cisternelli, a parent of a student in the program, reached out to local businesses and friends for donations. In addition, parent Jackie Groden donated snacks on the day of the meets. While Texas Roadhouse donated the team shirts, Walpole High School bought the supplies and paid for buses for the meet.

To prepare for the season, Ms. Zyirek and Mrs. Caine went to meetings and training through Special Olympics and brought two students to a leadership conference at Special Olympics Headquarters. Ms. Zyirek asked Ms. Teresa Canney, Science Teacher of the Special Education Department, to coach the team because of her experience with track.

Caine said, “It was amazing to see the athletes push themselves and succeed and the partners try their best in their events as well as encourage the athletes.”