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IHSAA, Special Olympics debut unified track tourney

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David Parks and Jason Sprague are possible Special Olympics contenders if Columbus North is chosen as one of the participating schools this year.
David Parks and Jason Sprague are possible Special Olympics contenders if Columbus North is chosen as one of the participating schools this year.

Jason Sprague finished first in 200 meters, second in running long jump and fifth in shot put in the Special Olympics Summer Games in Terre Haute.

David Parks won the shot put at the state games and won the 200 in the sectional.

This coming spring, Sprague, Parks and other high school Special Olympics students in Indiana will have a new avenue to showcase their talents. The IHSAA and Special Olympics Indiana announced last month that it will hold a Unified Track and Tournament for the first time in 2014.

“I enjoy doing the shot put, and I enjoy doing the running long jump and I also enjoy running the 200-meter dash,” said Sprague, a junior at Columbus North.

The shot put and long jump will be two of the five events to be staged in the inaugural competition. The others are the 100 and 400 meters and 4x100 relay.

The Unified tournament will feature a North and a South Sectional on May 30 and 31. All participants will advance to the state meet June 7 at Indiana University.

“I’ve been waiting for this type of thing to happen for many years in the high schools,” said Susy Warnell, Special Olympics coordinator for Bartholomew, Brown and Jennings Counties. “I would be ecstatic for the athletes to be a part of this.”

Jennings County athletics director Mike Broughton is a member of the IHSAA board of directors and helped get the idea of a Unified Track and Field Tournament off the ground.

“In the summer meetings, we went to Denver, and that was one of the things we talked about,” Broughton said. “It was about kicking it off and getting it started. It was something we had talked about the last couple of years, but we made it a reality this fall. I think it will be great for the kids.”

The collaborative effort between the IHSAA and Special Olympics Indiana allows IHSAA-member schools to form teams composed equally of students with and without intellectual disabilities. Schools will be allowed to schedule regular-season competitions in Unified Track and Field prior to the state tournament competition.

Columbus East athletics director Bob Gaddis said the school has allowed Special Olympics athletes to compete in exhibition races before regular track meets on occasion.

“We’ve done something similar in the past, so I’m sure there will be an interest for it in the future,” Gaddis said.

Gaddis and Broughton said no students at their schools have come forward to declare an interest in Unified Track and Field, but that they may after the first of the year.

“After Christmas, we’re going to get together and talk to some people,” said Broughton, who presents the medals and mental attitude awards at the IHSAA state track meets.

Parks used to do the baseball throw, standing long jump and 25, 50 and 100 meters when he competed in track and field. This year, he competed in volleyball in the Summer Games, when his team finished second.

“I’ve done track and field before, but I’ve done it so many times that I wanted to try something new,” Parks said.

But he still likes track and field.

“I’ve done it for a very long time,” Parks said. “It’s pretty fun doing it once you get used to it.”

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