By TIM CREASON
BLOOMINGTON – These state championships are getting to be a regular occurrence for Warsaw’s Unified Track & Field Team.
For the second time in three years, the Tigers brought home a team trophy from the state finals in Bloomington. Considering they didn’t even know they were in the running till the end, that’s a pretty spectacular outcome.
But then again, the Unified State Track and Field Championship is one of those rare athletic events: There’s a big trophy, but nobody really cares who wins.
Not that the Tigers plan to give theirs back.
“I think this is amazing because it creates such an opportunity for kids who wouldn’t normally be able to participate in higher competitive athletic events,” said Warsaw coach Julene Walker. “It creates so much team unity and such a team experience.”
The third annual collaborative effort between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics unfolded Saturday at the Indiana University Track in Bloomington, where athletes competed in five events.
More often than not, teams cheer as much for the other teams as for themselves.
“There’s so much interaction between the teams, that’s one of the things that makes this really special,” said Warsaw coach Julene Walker. “(Vincennes), the whole team came over and congratulated us after the meet. I thought that was an incredible display of sportsmanship.”
Technically, Warsaw won with 107 points. Noblesville was second with 103.
Being a member of the team isn’t so much about hard training as it is just learning the events.
“We usually start practice around spring break, and a lot of kids have never done track before, so it’s a lot of basic introduction into what are the events, what are the skills needed, that sort of thing,” said Walker.
“We’ve gone from 13 schools the first year to about 70 this year,” said Robert Faulkens, IHSAA assistant commissioner. “We don’t really recruit teams. They just see what’s happening and want to join. It’s all word of mouth.”
What happens is that Special Olympic athletes, some with “regular” students to assist them, compete in the long jump, shot put, 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, and 4 x 100-meter relay. Some are deadly serious about it. Some are obviously out just to have fun.
“This is a different kind of event. It’s not about winning,” said Faulkens. “It’s about giving kids a chance to wear the uniform and compete for their school.
“We give a trophy, so people want to win, but it’s not win at all costs,” said Faulkens. “The kids interact with each other. It just makes you feel good to watch.”
Warsaw won four heats during the meet. Not a whole lot, but the Tiger depth paid off. That means a lot of kids are participating.
A good sign.