By Joan Goodchild, Community Reporter
Region – On a beautiful spring day in Northborough, students assembled on the athletic fields outside Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) for track-and-field practice.
“Try and be more explosive when you throw it,” Nishant Joshi, a high school junior and team member, said as he coached fellow teammate Nathaniel Nahabedian, a freshman, on the shot put. “Keep your hand about right here. Good!”
It looks like any ordinary high school track practice, but there are some differences. Approximately 50 percent of the team members on the track team are students with intellectual disabilities. They are part of the recently formed UNIFIED Track and Field Team made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the Special Olympics.
Through the grant, Special Olympics has created teams like the one at ARHS through Project UNIFY to provide an opportunity for “students to become agents of change by fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.”
The UNIFIED Track and Field team is cooperatively coached by staff and volunteers from Northborough, Southborough and Westborough. Students with and without intellectual disabilities from both ARHS and Westborough High School are on the team.
“For some of these student there wouldn's be any other opportunity to take part in a spring sport,” explained the team's coach, ARHS science teacher Kevin Hausman.
Hausman, who is also involved in the ARHS chapter of Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for one-on-one friendships for students with intellectual disabilities, previously coached lacrosse at ARHS. Last fall, he was approached by ARHS's athletic director about taking the lead on the UNIFIED team.
“Within a day, he had sold me on it,” said Hausman, who resigned as lacrosse coach to coach the new track and field team.
There are eight other similar teams in Central Massachusetts and they compete in regular meets, Hausman said.
Curtis Rand, a freshman on the team, said he had tried other sports before but wasn’t a big fan of long-distance running. He was excited about the different activities track offers and said he has already made strides at learning turbo javelin.
Shard Sharma, a junior, said when he heard about the team, he thought it seemed like a great chance to both have fun and get in shape.
“I don’t want to just go home and sit on the couch,” Sharma said. “This lets me stay outside and get fit.”
Carol Pettine, a volunteer from the community whose husband also helps coach the team, said watching the students interact is inspiring.
“They are so encouraging of each other, always cheering each other on,” she said.
Hausman agreed, and said the camaraderie seems to come naturally to the great group of students he has on the team.
“I really haven’t had to coach them on this; they just do it.”