The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Track & Field State Championships were recently held at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and Special Olympics Tennessee had nine schools competing with Unified track teams. Northwest High School in Clarksville, Tennessee finished as runner-up to the state title by just one point, but it was still an incredible experience for both athletes and partners.
“It was a very fun experience,” said Akeyla Farmer. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was very inspiring to see other athletes be able to experience the same thing and know that everybody gets a chance to be able to run and be able to do a sport that they might have not been able to do before.”
In multiple events, Northwest had several top three finishes including third in the Boys 100 Meter Dash Relay Unified, third in the Girls Long Jump Unified, second in the Boys Long Jump Unified and a first-place finish in Mixed 4x100 Meter Relay Unified where they just edged out Powell High School for the win.
“Everybody had great energy, and everybody was very encouraging,” said Analiese Poe. “And it was just a lot of team spirit throughout the event.”
While the team may have come up one point short of tying for a state title, the team enjoyed their time competing. With it being a Unified Sports event, it provided everyone a chance to experience and compete as a team with an ultimate goal.
“We were hoping for first place, but we’re thrilled with being runner-up,” said Farmer. “Unified Sports is a chance for athletes to participate with their peers. It's more of a chance for everybody to be able to do everything together. It’s not just you alone, but a team competing together.”
Unified teams being a part of the TSSAA Track & Field State Championships was in the true spirit of what inclusion means. The Unified Teams were competing right along with varsity teams throughout the day. The stands were full, and the crowd was cheering. Tents were set up for each school in the warm-up area, allowing for everyone to build camaraderie amongst competitors. All participants were there to compete and showcase their skills in front of their peers. This is what Special Olympics dreams of when inclusion and Unified Sports are brought up.
“It is a chance for everyone for all teams to just come together and just show what they can do,” said Poe. “And it also shows everyone that just because you may be here with a disability or, you're not limited.”
Learn more about Unified Sports here.