No matter what you are capable of, anyone with the determination and courage can cross the finish line with pride. Beginning as one of the first Unified Track teams in the nation to take on hundreds of districts, the North Penn Unified Track team trained on the track to work towards beating their competition.
Originating from Special Olympics, this PIAA sport allows student-athletes with and without disabilities to work together to succeed on and off the track. Partners and athletes compete in an athletics event and a field event. Running events include the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters. In addition, 100 and 400 meter relays are also available for competition. The shot put, long jump and mini javelin are all part of the program’s field events.
“A common misperception is that only athletes participate in events and that’s not the case. It’s fun because everyone involved can contribute to the success of the team,” said Byrnes, head coach of the Unified Track team.
Beginning in 2016, this program helped develop other Special Olympics sports to be added to North Penn. As one of the first Unified Track teams in the country, it has encouraged other districts to participate in this program. In 2017 Unified Bocce was added and North Penn was awarded the title of Champion a few years later. With Covid in 2020 the first day of training was the day the district was closed so the season was canceled and the following year the program held a heptathlon to keep the program operational. This year, Unified Track is finally getting back to normal, and the bonds with partners and athletes are stronger than ever.
“It’s a great environment. If you want to get more involved in school activities, joining Unified Track is a great way to do that,” said Penn Relays partner and qualifier Lupinacci.
Not only are the participants looking to finish their race on a high, but they are also looking to have a good time with each other. Part of the experience is being able to step out of a teenager’s comfort zone and create lasting friendships with people they don’t normally interact with. This not only builds new relationships, but gives high school students the experience of working with people who may not have the same experiences as them.
“One of my favorite parts is seeing the students start out as complete strangers at the start of the season and develop great friendships by the end of the season. Unified Track gives students the opportunity to meet kids who can being different from the kids they see in their classrooms or other activities. The simple, pure nature of competition fosters great relationships,” Byrnes noted.
To familiarize themselves with the events and with each other, the team trains twice a week. Their practice time allows children unfamiliar with the track to learn and improve their comfort level with competition.
“I would like to win a few matches. We are always working hard on the practices we have and also encourage each other to improve. All participants want to win, so it is important for me to do my part,” confirmed Lupinacci.
It is important to register early as there are only 40 students the program can have on the roster. Still, Byrnes is looking to add a junior varsity team in future seasons with more people continuing to sign up.
Attend the North Penn Unified Track team reunion at upcoming competitions and the Penn Relays on April 27 as this program heads into a great season and a bright future.