By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Region – On April 4, the track at Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) in Northborough was home to the school's first-ever Unified Track and Field (UNIFY®) competition. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Special Olympics Project's UNIFY, which is, according to the Special Olympics website, an “education-based program that uses the sports and education initiatives of Special Olympics to activate youth to promote school communities where all young people are agents of change – fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.”
Breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities, the goal of UNIFY is to teach sports to kids with disabilities alongside their friends. The focus of the unified track and field teams is less on winning and more on building relationships between two groups of students who may not otherwise meet, eradicating the social and environmental walls to inclusion. Last fall, ARHS Athletic Director Fran Whitten attended a meeting at which Project UNIFY was introduced, and the initiative to create a Mid Wachusett League Unified Track and Field Program was presented. He came back to school excited, and approached science teacher Kevin Hausmann to consider the program.
“I was so excited I didn’t wait long and resigned from my JV girls lacrosse coaching position to start this new team,” Hausmann said. “The opportunity to extend student inclusion in interscholastic sports and remove another barrier to full inclusion is one of my greatest passions. I’ve been involved with Best Buddies for six years at ARHS and have been very interested in how students with intellectual disabilities are included in social opportunities at school and between buddies and their peers.”
The decision to join the Unified track team was an easy one for ARHS junior Lindsay Bertonazzi as well.
“I decided to participate because I wanted to become more familiar with the Best Buddies kids and teach them what it is like to be on a team and how fun it is,” she said. Bertonazzi competed in the long jump, shot-put and 400-meter dash.
Nishant Josi, a Westborough High School (WHS) junior, said that the decision to participate in Unified Track was the best decision he could have made.
“Just seeing the smiles on my teammates” faces makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
As head coach for ARHS/WHS Unified Track Team, Hausmann has three goals for his athletes: (1) for all students to learn new athletic skills and get involved in high school team sports. For some students, this is the first team sport they have ever tried, (2) for all students to feel the joy of winning and competing and to learn to lose with dignity and (3) for all students to feel the camaraderie of practicing, riding the team bus, and encouraging each other in every pursuit.
“I also hope my athletes without disabilities see a new perspective on their teammates and spread the word that inclusion for those with disabilities is the norm in all aspects of life rather than the exception,” Hausmann said. “I hope my athletes with disabilities see that their potential is without limit.”
The ARHS/WHS Unified Track team is funded in great part by Special Olympics of MA, which has secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Funding diminishes in year two, though, and the program is challenged to be financially independent by year three. So far, officials and boys track coaches Brian Boschetto, Nick Boschetto and Ken Morin have offered their time for officiating meets. Even as this inaugural season gets under way, the team is incurring more costs than the grant will cover. Hausmann is planning fundraisers for the near future.
The ARHS/WHS Unified Track team will have four regular meets (every Wednesday) and one league championship meet Saturday, May 19, at Lunenburg High School, 1079 Massachusetts Ave.
Unified Track participants from ARHS/WHS (hometown-grade): Clara Anderson (S-11), Lindsay Bertonazzi (S-11), Zach Bloch (W- 9), Melanie Branson (S-11), Henry Chi (W-10), Eliza Galvao (N-11), Ryann Hanley (N-12), Nishant Joshi (W-11), Brittany Kern (S-9), Lexie Koziel (S-9), Grace Lellman (N-11), Amy Lopatin (S-12), Jarrett McGillicuddy (N-9), Dorie McKinley (S-PG), Caleb Murphy (S-12), Nathaniel Nahabedian (S-9), Kevin Neil (W-11), Jessie Noke (S-11), Curtis Rand (W-9), Gwen Saffran (S-11), Alex Saffran (S-PG), Caroline Severo (N-12), Shard Sharma (W-11), Scott Trehub (S-12), Amanda Varrichionne (N-11), Tommy Roche (S-PG)
To learn more about Unified track and field, visit