Unified Track is a program that combines Special Olympic athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and partners them with high school athletes (individuals without intellectual disabilities) on the same sports team. Unified track is an important program because it expands opportunities for all students seeking athletic competition and embarking on new challenges. Additionally, it dramatically increases inclusion in the school community.
Unified Track is a unique and important program because it integrates athletes with and without intellectual disabilities in a setting where all teammates are challenged to improve their skills. Furthermore, this team promotes valuable sports opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities who may not be currently involved with Special Olympics, especially those with mild intellectual disabilities and those in communities where there are not enough Special Olympic athletes to create teams.
Unified Track prepares athletes for participation in school or community sports as well as increases public awareness of the spirit and skills of individuals with intellectual disabilities. It is a wonderful model for genuine inclusion within our school community. Finally, Unified Track provides a competitive experience whereby athletes benefit from physical and mental challenges. The Unified Track rules and guidelines are created to be mindful of age and ability to help ensure all teammates play important, meaningful and valued roles on the team. All IHSAA rules and guidelines apply for the participants.
Merrillville High School recognized the benefits of this fantastic sports team and started their team in 2017. In its inaugural season, the Pirate Unified Track Team won the state championship. In 2018, the Pirates were sectional champions followed by a state runner-up title. This year, 2019, the team won the DAC championship. They will compete in the sectional and are hopeful to take another run at the state title.