HARWICH – Getting every kid on a team into a game is one thing, but at Monomoy Regional High School ensuring that kids have a team to be part of is a mission Special Education Teacher Shana Grogan took to heart, resulting in the creation this year of the new unified track team.
Grogan, the Students Having Opportunities for Recreation and Employment (SHORE) teacher, said that plans were in the works last year to form a team, but couldn't be completed in time for the spring season. This year, after extensive meetings with Special Olympics of Massachusetts, Monomoy administrators and athletic director Karen Guillemette, everything was ready to go. But first it was time to train.
“Unified track is perfect for my kiddos and general education kids that want to participate in a team sport and also help out kids with intellectual disabilities,” said Shana Grogan. “We pair our neurotypical kids with our intellectually disabled kids and it just forms a bond and a partnership.”
Through that partnership, students in Monomoy's Best Buddies program and those on the school's track teams have worked with their SHORE pals to get them ready for each of their meets this season.
“We join in with every track practice,” Grogan said. “Kids grab my students and do warm-ups and stretches and show them how to do the long jump and the shot put. It's a bigger team than what my little team looks like because when we're with the track team we're one of them.”
Grogan said the students that volunteered to be part of the new unified track team did so willingly, looking forward to helping their SHORE friends.
“They're all out there because they want to be. I didn't have anybody join just to join,” Grogan said. “They came up to me and wanted to join. Even those on the regular track team come to all of our meets and help run everything.”
A part of that has meant teaching the student athletes of the SHORE program how to perform some of the events, such as shot put, long jump, and the javelin throw.
“We took some kids that never knew how to hold even six pounds and have been strengthening them up, teaching the kids how to run, how to throw the javelin,” Grogan said. “All these things that neurotypical kids just 'get' we have to teach our kids, so it's nice when they finally understand how to do it and see it through. Their faces light up and they get super excited.”
Indeed, completion of each event brought shouts of joy from each of the athletes participating in the team's May 15 meet with Nauset and the combined Riverview/Sturgis East Unified teams. Rory Farris celebrated a top-notch shot put throw, while William Ramos had everyone cheering him on when he stepped out of his wheelchair to compete in the long jump. Grogan said moments like these have a profound impact on her general education peers.
“They're genuine cheerleaders, and want to figure out ways to help these kids achieve all their different goals,” said Grogan. “I think they see the pure joy as well, and the excitement, and they absolutely love watching them succeed. William getting out of the chair blew the minds of a lot of kids because you wouldn't think that he could participate in the long jump. He very much can.”
The meets are also momentous for the parents of the unified track athletes since it allows them to see their children in a supportive environment, doing what they love.
“It's heartwarming to look at the parents and see that it's their kiddos out there competing and not in the stands watching the sister or brother all the time,” said Grogan. “To have the roles reversed is just beautiful.”
Contrary to most sports, there are only winners on the unified track team, but similar to other athletics, students in the unified program will earn a varsity letter, same as every other varsity sport. “They're just considered another sport at Monomoy,” said Grogan.
But her athletes are are anything but ordinary.
“Just for them to feel that excitement of going in and knowing it was all about them is extremely heartwarming,” Grogan said. “They look forward to that friendship and camaraderie. It means the world to them.”