By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Hundreds of students from 19 area high schools including Hudson, Algonquin, Shrewsbury, Grafton and Westborough filled Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School’s Aztec stadium May 23 for this year’s central sectional unified track meet hosted by Special Olympics Massachusetts.
A long running partnership between Special Olympics and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), unified track programs span 81 communities across the state and offer students with and without disabilities the chance to compete alongside one another. After four respective regular season meets, the 19 teams of the Central Massachusetts division gathered at Assabet for the first of two postseason meets, with the state championship following just a week later.
“We feel that the unified experience is a learning experience for all students both athletes and partner,” said Kathy Lutz, the manager of Special Olympics’ unified track programs. “It’s about seeing people for their abilities rather than focusing on their disabilities.”
Indeed, the May 23 event offered those learning opportunities through eight track and field events spanning almost three hours of competition. With said events sprawling across the stadium grounds, organizers leaned heavily on a small army of volunteers largely from Assabet itself.
“The students do a tremendous job; we couldn’t do it without Assabet,” Lutz said.
Altogether, these Central Massachusetts sectionals, the league meets that preceded them and the state competition that followed value competition but ultimately focus on the broader benefits of unified sports represented in Assabet’s volunteerism and the athletic partnerships on display between disabled athletes and athletes without disabilities.
“We feel that it changes the culture in schools to be more inclusive and accepting,” Lutz said. “We think that this is a big culture change and as these students go through life, we hope they take the lessons they learn here and apply those to their families and in their communities.”