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1 month ago by Pete Huse

Olympian Unified Track Ready for Action!

Happy To Be Back / Unified track and field teams return to competition after a year off

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The cancellation of spring sports last season affected numerous local athletes, including those who compete in Unified track and field.

Along with other spring sports, Unified track is back this year, and Columbus North and Columbus East athletes are thrilled with the chance to compete once again.

“I think it’s the best thing ever because Unified track is my favorite sport,” North senior Alana Cook said. “You get to be with your friends. It’s about helping each other and making everyone smile and bring sunshine to everyone’s day. Not having it last year just makes a bigger meaning to what Unified track is, and having it this year makes it better.”

Cook said when schools and sports were shut down last year, she sometimes would gather some of the special education students and walk outside or play board games.

The Bull Dogs, who were scheduled to open their season Wednesday at Seymour, finished third at state in 2018 and seventh in 2019. But they will have a much smaller team this season than it did those two years.

“Not having a season last year, it hurt everyone,” North coach Nate VanDeventer said. “My team this year is probably cut in half from what it has been in past years. Maybe (parents) don’t feel safe enough to put their kids out there this year. I totally get that and respect that. But you get to do more things with a smaller group. It’s been really fun so far, and they kids have been really good to work with.”

Cook, who competed at state in 2018 and 2019, returns to lead the Bull Dogs. Among the top newcomers are freshmen Gavin Bayne, Seth Rankin and Brendan Barnett.

North also has added sophomore Ty Ferguson and juniors Sam King and Carson Dibble from the Conference Indiana champion boys basketball team; seniors Madison White and Alexa McKinley from the conference champion girls basketball team and juniors Jenna Lang and K.J. Ely, senior Kate Kolhouse and McKinley from the conference and regional champion girls soccer team.

Their goal is to return to the state finals.

“Ever since I took over, that’s always been one of our main goals for the whole program — to make it to state,” VanDeventer said. “But it’s not easy. We’ve been very blessed to have a lot of athletes and partners in the past. We’re smaller in numbers this year, but we have some athletic kids, and hopefully we can get back to making it to state.”

East coach Peggy Myers teaches in the special education department at the school, so she was able to keep her athletes and other students connected last year when schools were shut down.

“Overall, they were pretty understanding,” Myers said. “We had a lot of live online interaction through Best Buddies and an Inclusive Improv Group, and that was a lot of fun. We were able to have virtual activities, and through our classes, we were online every day. We put in yoga and exercising, along with the academics. That way, kids were still getting a lot of the services.”

The Olympians return several kids from 2019, including seniors Collin Cornett, Matthew Derleth and Donivan Warren and juniors Peyton Meier, Vanessa Brooks, Sarah Boggs, Mackenzi Allman and Grace Wiltsey. Top newcomers include junior Jackson Eaken and Gabe Palaczuk, sophomores Jaiden Anderson and Pete Coriden and freshmen Nolan Hughes and Abi Baker.

East opens its season April 19 at North.

“We really want all of the athletes to strive to improve and to learn to seriously compete,” Myers said. “I think that when you work to show everything you’ve been working toward, all the practices and drills that go into it, you want to see that that’s all been worth it.

“Learning the sportsmanship and all of those skills that go along with it are very important,” she added. “We want the sport of Unified track to be a legitimate sport and not just looked upon as something to go goof around. We always strive to have fun. We always strive for all the athletes to truly enjoy the sport, but take it seriously, just as with any other sport.”

Cook expressed gratitude for all of the coaches at North for helping guide them through the pandemic.

“We all thank the coaches for what they’re doing,” Cook said. “It’s been really hard for all of them.”

“It really is truly an honor to work with these kids, and I’m so happy we’re able to get outside and have a season,” VanDeventer said. “The whole Unified concept, it’s so nice that there’s something like this that’s available for the kids at our school and East, as well.”

If you go:

The 2021 Unified track and field schedules for Columbus East 

Columbus East

April 19;at Columbus North;5:30 p.m.

April 21;Brown County;5:30 p.m.

April 28;at Jennings County (with Columbus North and Seymour);5:30 p.m.

May 1;Hoosier Hills Conference meet;11 a.m.

May 10;at Bedford North Lawrence (with Seymour);5:45 p.m.

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