Unified Track Team advances to State meet

The Unified Track State send off will be Wednesday, April 28 during first period before the team leaves to compete at the Unified Track and Field UIL State Competition in San Antonio at Northeast ISD Heroes Stadium on Thursday, April 29.

Teams consist of an equal number of Unified Athletes and Partners. Both teachers and athletic coaches help prepare the team for each competition. The team qualified as a unit, but students are competing in individual events.  Senior Brecon Vaughn, who ran in the 100-meter relay, said he is excited for the out of town trip to San Antonio.

“It was exciting to travel to Lubbock, [for Regionals]” Brecon Vaughn said. “It’s going to be fun to stay in the hotel with everyone. I’m excited for the trip.” 

Vaughn said he competed against schools from around the area, and had a blast doing so.

“I like watching my friends and teammates,” Vaughn said. “I feel happy to see everyone do good at the track meet.”

Senior Lilly Thurman joined the team after taking the Eagles Inc. class and getting to know students who were participating with the Unified Teams. Thurman said she is looking forward to spending time with her teammates on the trip. 

I feel happy to see everyone do good at the track meet.”

— Brecon Vaughn

“The awesome part about Unified Track is the attitude of everyone,” Thurman said. “The whole point of Unified Track is to have fun and do our best. Yes, we do compete, but more than anything, we want to have a good time.”

Unified Teams are associated with UIL. Students competing are eligible for letterman jackets and can earn points towards the Lone Star Cup. Students practiced two times a week over the last few months. Thurman said the team worked to overcome challenges together. 

“This might look a little bit different but everyone works hard,” Thurman said. “Unified is different from a typical track meet; there are modifications. We have someone who competes in long jump that doesn’t like to jump with both feet. We make modifications where they feel comfortable competing. You have to be patient, and we’re figuring it out together.”

Students can support the team and keep up with the track meet results by following the Instagram account, @chs_unifed-teams. Thurman said the team tries to create a safe space for all members. 

“We don’t care what people think,” Thurman said. “Just because I have a disability, doesn’t mean I can’t do this. It is okay to be different. That’s what makes us so special. We’re doing this for ourselves. I’ve never gotten the chance to really compete, but now I can do this, and I love it. Being involved with Eagles Inc. and our Unified Teams has been so positive.”

Karen Dabney, the Inclusion Resource Science Teacher and Transition Coordinator at Canyon High, said she has seen the positive effects of competing on Unified Teams for both the Unified Athletes and Partners.

“Sometimes, general education students get more out of helping with this program,” Dabney said. “When you grow up with someone who has an intellectual disability, they become a person you love. But when you meet someone with an intellectual disability when you’re older, that person becomes the girl with Down Syndrome or the boy with Autism. Unified sports are great because it brings inclusion to our schools.” 

We want kids to be a part of this. You’ll never have a better time, and you’ll never find a better friend.

— Karen Dabney, Inclusion Resource Science Coordinator

Dabney said the vision of Unified Teams at Canyon High is to have different areas of interest for students to compete and hopes others will consider joining to help grow the program. 

“The reaction on campus has been great,” Dabney said. “We want kids to be a part of this. You’ll never have a better time, and you’ll never find a better friend. We would love athletes that are in off-season to come compete with us. Next year, we want to have a UIL Unified Robotics Team for students who aren’t into sports. We want this program to grow.”

Dabney said Unified Teams raise awareness, help foster a culture of inclusion on campus and give more students an opportunity to compete for their school, one event at a time.

“We’re just like every other team on campus,” Dabney said. “Once you get in here, you see that not everybody has to be the same as you, think the same as you or develop the same as you. It’s okay to be different.”

Junior Daniel Thiesen runs the 100-meter dash. Thiesen said running gives him confidence and he is excited to compete at State. 

“Track makes me feel good,” Thiesen said. “Running is my favorite thing to do, and now I can do it with my friends and teammates. I have scoliosis and running helps with my back pain. I like competing in Unified Track because we’re all the same. We come together to compete, no matter what. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can do Unified Track.”

Students interested in participating next year can contact Karen Dabney, the Inclusion Resource Science Teacher and Transition Coordinator at Canyon High