THE DEAN’S LIST WITH DEAN HOCKNEY
Last year, the IHSAA launched its 21st varsity sport – Unified Track. And all indications are it has been a success and something which the IHSAA should be proud – pairing student-athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together on an athletic field.
In 2015 – the second year of the sport in the Hoosier state – the state tournament saw an expanded field as more schools introduced Unified Track to their athletic programs. Five sectional sites from across the state sent their top two teams to Bloomington for last weekend’s competition. In 2014, only two sites were needed to host the number of schools that participated. The Kokomo, Noblesville, Mt. Vernon, Terre Haute South and Michigan City teams all won sectional championships in this year’s tournament.
This year, the Kokomo Wildkats Unified Track team won the programs first sectional title in its inaugural year of competition. Then, last Saturday, they brought home Kokomo’s 24th IHSAA state runners-up trophy (see page 3).
Unified Sports enables persons 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. While the IHSAA provides the framework for competition, Special Olympics Indiana provides technical support and financial grants to a number of schools who start new Unified Track programs.
Michael Furnish, Special Olympics Indiana president and CEO, applauds the IHSAA for its leadership.
“The vote by the IHSAA to include students with special needs in interscholastic sports competition is historic,” he says. “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.”
Unified Sports is not something new in the United States. In 1992, Connecticut became the first state in which an official partnership was formed between Special Olympics and a state high school athletic association. Connecticut has been conducting organized Unified Sports competitions for high school students since that time and now administers competitions in five Unified Sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, bowling and track) while more than 60 percent of Connecticut High Schools compete in at least one Unified Sport.
Following the lead of Connecticut, Maryland, Arizona, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have since formed similar programs. Indiana officially joined the list last year and considers Unified Track as an official state championship event.
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said at the time of the initial announcement that the inclusion of Unified Track is a historic moment for the association.
“The approval by the IHSAA for Unified Track was a beginning step in the evolving culture of inclusion between the IHSAA and our partners at Special Olympics Indiana,” said Cox. “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, which was also the first sport recognized by the IHSAA in 1903.”
So, hats off to the IHSAA for bringing this important program to the state. And hats off to Kokomo Athletic Director Jason Snyder for once again leading the way and ensuring the Kats were at the forefront of this new sport.
Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.
Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.