Jonathan Prather paused briefly toward the end of his run up to the long jump takeoff board. The Columbus East Unified Track & Field athlete had to make sure he looked good for the photographs that were being taken. His actual long jump distance was secondary.
Posing for pictures or not, Prather was all smiles all afternoon long at Columbus North — as was just about everyone else that was on hand for Tuesday’s meet between the Olympians and the Bull Dogs.
The rivalry between the two schools is normally heated, but the vibe was quite a bit different for this particular meet. Unified athletes and peers alike from both sides supported one another throughout.
“We’re all just as one team, almost, and just competing to do our best,” North peer Kat Norman said.
Though the intensity was down a few notches from the usual East-North showdown, all of the athletes involved still wanted to put their best foot forward. East’s Corey Hash managed to pull off an impressive double, shuttling back and forth between the long jump and shot put to compete in both simultaneously.
“It drove me crazy a little bit,” Hash said of doing the two events at once, “but I did it, 100 percent.”
For most of the Unified athletes, these meets are the lone opportunity to experience high school sports at the varsity level, so just being able to be a part of a team is rewarding enough.
Of course, that’s not to say nobody thinks about winning — North’s Cole Whitchurch was among the athletes flashing a bit of a competitive streak on Tuesday.
“I like to go against other teams and attempt to win,” Whitchurch said. “I congratulate all the other ones that do win.”
For the peers, many of whom do compete in other varsity sports, the results of the events themselves are very much a trivial part of the overall experience. As North coach Daniel Ho noted, the Unified athletes and the peers are both learning from each other.
“It’s a great experience,” East peer Ethan Suma said. “I love working with everybody. It’s really awesome just to see everybody get out here and compete, and the smiles on their faces afterwards, it’s just amazing.”
The smiles were not exclusive to the end of the meet. Competitors and spectators alike were wearing them throughout — even, in some of the athletes’ cases, to the detriment of their own performances.
Even the British Royal Guard might have cracked on Tuesday.
“How can you not just stand here and smile the entire time?” East coach Stacy Meier said. “It warms your heart, and it’s so fun just to see the relationships that the kids make.”
Today, East and North will return to their regularly scheduled blood feud. On Tuesday, they called a truce. And they loved every second of it.