By Jess Thomas
The Nashoba Regional High School Unified Track season got underway on Thursday, April 16 on a sunny day in Bolton.
Unified Track began in 2011 when the Special Olympics organization started a movement called Project Unified in order to practice inclusion and acceptance in high schools, according to Patti Doherty, a representative from Massachusetts Special Olympics.
The program has grown from eight schools participating originally to 14 schools now active in the Midland-Wachusett league.
Nashoba High put together a Unified Track team at the beginning of the program in 2011 and won the state title in the first two years of its existence, something of which the team is very proud.
With second-year coach Ally Wandell at the helm, the squad is looking for its third title in four years.
“We have phenomenal buddies,” Wandell said. “We have a very good group of kids that are helping out our kids.
“Our Best Buddies program basically feeds into the Unified Track program. We have a lot of kids who have great relationships that they start with and already have coming into the unified season,” she stated.
The team has four meets this season, three of which are held against either one or two other schools. The fourth is the state meet which will be held on May 13 at Nashoba High this year for the first time.
The events in which the students compete are long jump, javelin or shot put for field events and the 100-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relay races for track events.
There were seven heats of the 100-meter dash on Thursday against Hudson and Marlborough. The most closely contested events were the relays, in which just a few seconds separated each squad.
The Chieftains’ relay team consisted of Stow’s Nick Giovinazzo and Mary Sabourin as well as Chad Morgan and Jared Missaggia. They finished second with a 1:13 time. Marlborough won the relay with a time of 1:07 and Hudson completed the race at 1:18.
Giovinazzo, along with Stow’s Elena Reverdy and Bolton’s Zach Murphy and John Vasington, are the captains of the 2015 edition of Unified Track.
Wandell praised her captains for doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work with the team.
“The biggest thing is being able to have our kids participate. Some of them really need that push and that motivation and the biggest part of being captain is being able to run the team and make them want to be there,” Wandell said.
Wandell also noted that the students on the team talk about Unified Track all year, excited for when it actually begins in April. During the season, the team practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays before having meets on Thursdays.
Wandell has worked in special education for eight years and has been a coach for five years, so to be the coach of this team is the best of both worlds for her and she said she is thrilled to do it.
“It was a great way to combine my two passions,” Wandell said. “I love running and I love my job.”
In addition to competing in meets, the team also has fun off the track, such as tye-dying shirts at practice, one of which Wandell was proudly sporting.
“I love the team building,” Wandell said. “I love the camaraderie between all the players and being able to cheer for each other; it’s a wonderful atmosphere being able to have that many people who come out and cheer for our kids.”
The team is proud to be the largest team in the Mid-Wach, as well as the most successful at fundraising.
Upcoming Unified Track fundraisers include collecting bags of clothing to donate to Savers Thrift Stores, a company that supports non-profit organizations. Visit www.savers.com for more information. The team is also participating in a “Friendship Walk” on May 17 to raise money for Best Buddies.