Pictured are Western Wayne participants at the unified track meet held at Western Wayne on May 24. From left, kneeling: Cynthia A. LaRosa, director of special education; Sabrina Swoyer, Coral Swoyer, Victoria Kroll, Jared Loveland, Jamie Newman, Amy Newman, and Elizabeth Bellush-Moore, special education teacher. From left, standing: Kristin Johnson, Schuyler Chumard, Shawn Dixon, Caleb Burns, Michael Phillips, Sinaea Buford, and Jennifer DeNike, assistant director of special education.
Imagine an individual sporting event where it is encouraged to help your fellow teammates and teammates from opposing schools. This unique, friendly atmosphere was the norm at the unified track meet held at Western Wayne High School on Thursday, May 24, in which both regular education and special education students participated together. The Western Wayne students played against and with students from Honesdale and Wallenpaupack.
This was part of three tri-meets held in May involving these three Wayne County schools. Honesdale and Wallenpaupack hosted the other events. The unified track meets are part of a program called Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS). This is a fully-inclusive co-ed high school sports program which successfully brings together students with and without disabilities. The students train together, compete as equal teammates, and through this experience, become friends. IUS teams are regarded like every other interscholastic sports team at the high school level.
The IUS program was presented at a Local Education Agency meeting and Special Olympics was looking to pilot the program at Wayne County schools this year. Special Olympics graciously provides funding for this very important program for local students.
The Western Wayne Unified Track Team is composed of the following students: Coral Swoyer, Sinaea Buford, Schuyler Chumard, Shawn Dixon, Caleb Burns, Michael Phillips, Victoria Kroll, Sabrina Swoyer, Amy Newman, Jamie Newman, and Jared Loveland. The team is coached by Cynthia A. LaRosa, director of special education;
Jennifer DeNike, assistant director of special education; and Elizabeth Bellush-Moore, special education teacher.
All participants in the unified track meets participated in the following track events: 100 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 4×100 and 4×400 relays. They also competed in the following field events: shot put, running long jump, and mini-javelin.
For many members of the unified track team, this is their first after-school activity and sport. One such student is Western Wayne freshman Jared Loveland.
“It feels so great to be a part of a team,” Jared said. “I like cooperating with everyone and hanging out with them.”
Jared’s favorite part was throwing the javelin at the meet.
“My team gave me a lot of support,” Jared said.
Jared also said he greatly enjoyed the social aspect of the event.
“I love talking to new people,” Jared, who aspires to be an X-ray technician, said.
Jared’s teammate senior Schuyler Chumard also liked the atmosphere at the meet.
“I like seeing friends from other schools,” Schuyler explained.
Schuyler’s favorite event was a relay race he did with his Western Wayne teammates.
“I like to close the relay,” Schuyler, who runs the last leg, explained. “It’s easy to get to the finish line.”
Western Wayne sophomore Sabrina Swoyer said she most enjoyed helping other students like Schuyler cross the finish line or achieve a different goal at the event.
“This experience has helped me realize that I may want to become a special education teacher in the future,” Sabrina explained. “I realize just how much patience I have. I understand that the special education students go through a lot of challenges, but if they have a friend, like me, to help them then they won’t feel as challenged in a situation like the track meet and can feel more like everyone else.”
Fellow sophomore Jack McAllister, who assisted at the Western Wayne meet, also greatly enjoyed making all of the students feel welcome and good about themselves.
“I love watching the students achieve something and then seeing their smiles afterwards,” Jack explained.
Jack, who has an older brother who has autism, said he has always enjoyed working with other special education students at Western Wayne and hopes to continue doing so in the future.
Jack is in agreement with all Western Wayne administrators, teachers, and students who participated in the unified track events this year.
“We hope to continue the program next year,” Bellush-Moore said.
All Western Wayne participants in unified track were honored at a recent board meeting in the Western Wayne District Office and feel very excited to continue working together in the future.
Western Wayne freshman Jared Loveland throws the javelin at a recent unified track meet.
Western Wayne senior Schuyler Chumard races to the finish line.
Western Wayne sophomore siblings Sabrina and Coral Swoyer participate at the unified track meet recently hosted by Western Wayne.