HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD: Kermit ISD races to the front with Unified Team

(Courtesy Photo | Kermit High School)

Being a part of a team is something that many high school student-athletes embrace.

Kermit High School is no exception to that and since the beginning of the school year, the school and district as a whole have offered another opportunity for students.

For the first time, Kermit ISD is competing with a Unified Track Team that features students with disabilities competing alongside other athletes at the school.

The team has already had success in 2021 with the Yellow Jackets winning the Area 18 Meet on March 30 in Lubbock.

Kermit principal Daniel Sharp is one of the coaches for the team. He says that adding this new team is something that has taken a strong hold in the school right away.

“We jumped on board because of the opportunity for our Special Olympic athletes to team up with students,” Sharp said. “It’s been really exciting.

“I think there were a lot of people that were unsure with how it was going to look until we actually started competing. Once we started, they all got really excited about it.”

Kermit competed at the regional meet Thursday at Lubbock Christian and finished in second place to earn one of four qualifying spots to the state meet April 29 in San Antonio.

“It’s a great feeling to get to see them participating in something like that,” said Gary Roark, a special education teacher in Kermit ISD and coach on the team. “This is the first time they’re competing in something like this. It’s something new going up against bigger schools.”

In order to be a part of the program, Kermit became a Unified Champion School, which is a program that the Special Olympics says “is an opportunity for schools Pre-K through university level to intentionally promote meaningful social inclusion.”

That included adding Unified Track as part of a collaboration with the University Interscholastic League and Special Olympics Texas.

The track meets are set up as something similar to a regular track meet with the most notable difference being how the events are scored.

Each event has a Special Olympic athlete and a regular athlete — known as a student partner — competing together. The athletes will earn a combined team score that is added up to a complete team score.

Kermit’s team currently has 17 students involved: six Special Olympic athletes, 10 student partners and a manager.

“They hold the younger ones accountable for being at practice,” Sharp said. “It’s one of those things where our student athletes don’t want to let their student partners down, so they show up and compete hard for them.”

Kermit is one of 128 high schools across Texas to be a UCS according to Tammy Hortenstine, Executive Director of Unified Programs with Special Olympics Texas.

She said that she’s been impressed with how supportive Kermit ISD, including superintendent Joe Lopez and athletic director Bubba Ross, has been from the beginning.

“They wanted to be a part of the UIL aspect of this,” Hortenstine said. “They’re brand new in UCS this year and they’re already rolling out everything they can through the program.

“It’s really exciting because they have taken this on and they’re all in.”

Hortenstine added that there’s been a learning curve since the process started in 2019 to show a different side of the Special Olympics. She also said that the early feedback has shown more schools joining up.

“We knew that in the first year out that it wasn’t as big as it was going to be,” she said. “It’s already growing for what it’s going to look like next year.”

Part of that growth will also include plans to add Unified Basketball at the beginning of the next school year. The plan is for Kermit to be a part of that program as well and Sharp hopes that other schools across the Permian Basin join as well.

“With this being the first year of incorporating it with the UIL, I really hope to see more schools see the importance of teaming up and having a unified team,” he said.

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