By Derek Etter
Social Media & Marketing Editor
In a new way to integrate sports, the Red Lion Special Education department has begun UNIFIED track and field in affiliation with the Special Olympics.
The program, which created the Team "Unified Lions,” is integrating special needs students into the track team under the mantra, "We are one."
With the goal of eliminating labels, the special needs students (called "athletes") have begun to practice with peer "partners" from the JV and Varsity teams.
On Mondays and Wednesdays after school, athletes meet a different partner each day and practice alongside them, building team morale and relationships.
Athletes have the choice to practice in one track event and one field event each.
Their track events include the 100, 400, and 800, and they have the long jump, shot put, and an adapted "mini javelin" to choose from in field events.
"My favorite event is the long jump," said Cody Woods, full of excitement while preparing for a Wednesday practice.
As partners rolled out practice mats, the athletes eagerly watched their pals help prepare for practice.
"We've learned to jump a little," said freshman Erica Kline, "but mostly to give it your best shot."
This is Erica's first time in track and field, and she is a runner and jumper.
She and other athletes will practice for their three meets during the spring against York county, Lancaster county, with the other being a home meet.
They meet in "heats" with their fellow partners, who help them learn the tricks behind certain events.
Junior Kayleigh Deisley is a partner, and she says she loves helping each hardworking athlete.
"Can I say something cheesy?" said Deisley, when asked what the best thing about being a partner was. "They have the biggest hearts I have ever met."
Teacher Denise Wagner says students score for fun and the learning experience.
"It's amazing how motivated the athletes are with their partners by their side," she said, "it's an uplifting experience to witness."
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