Penn Manor hosted the first Unified Track & Field meet in Lancaster County Friday, kicking off a new program that enables students with intellectual disabilities to compete in organized sports.
Hempfield, McCaskey and Warwick also have teams under the first-year effort, which is governed by the Special Olympics and endorsed by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Student athletes compete alongside partners without disabilities, with teams fielding an even number of each. Students are eligible to compete in one track event of 100, 400 or 800 meters; one relay (4 x 100 meters or 4 x 400 meters); and one field event, including shot put, long jump and javelin.
Team members compete in flights, which pairs students of similar abilities against each other, giving everyone a chance to be competitive.
Penn Manor kicked off the inaugural meet against Warwick and Hempfield Friday in front of an enthusiastic group of spectators. Penn Manor won the meet, but the students seemed excited just to be able to participate.
“I think all of our athletes felt like superstars on Friday,” said Jessica Cunningham, who coaches the team along with Doug Kramer. “They were proud of themselves for what they accomplished, and they felt encouraged and supported by the Penn Manor community.”
Sports teams teach students many valuable lessons about unity, sportsmanship and perseverance, Cunningham said. “I am glad we now have a program that allows all of our students to participate in a sports team. We’re all learning valuable lessons about encouragement and perseverance from our Unified athletes.”
The next meet is May 2 at Hempfield. The season will culminate with a regional championship that will include the four Lancaster County schools, along with Red Lion and York County Tech, scheduled for May 14 at Hempfield High School.
Many thanks to the coaches, special education teachers, partners, volunteers and supporters who made this new program possible for students of all abilities at Penn Manor!