Competition, encouragement abound on Wareham High School's unified track team
Before starting the 100-meter dash, Devin Lacourse rose from his wheelchair.
He grasped the handles of his walker and started the race, finishing 2 minutes and 12 seconds later. At the finish line, he collapsed – tired, but determined.
“I felt like I could have gone faster,” he said. “But my walker was uneven on the right side.”
Lacourse is one of 20 students with special needs from Wareham High School that compete on the school’s unified track team, which brings athletes – with and without disabilities – together. On Thursday, the team held its first meet of the year at the Wareham Middle School track.
Coach Megan Kashner, who has been a coach at the high school for 11 years, started the team in 2017. The emphasis, she said, is on competition.
“This isn’t a ‘feel good, everybody gets a medal’ kind of team,” she said. “It’s all about the athletes being competitive against themselves and getting better and better.”
The unified track team pairs student with special needs, known as “athletes,” with other students, called “partners.” The team has four meets each year, then a regional meet and state finals. The unified track team’s next meet is set for April 25 at 4 p.m. at the Wareham Middle School track. While it is associated with the Special Olympics, the team encourages all to work together, rather than separating by ability.
Gwen Miceli, a senior, has been a partner since the team began.
“It’s just awesome,” she said. “It’s competitive, but the good kind of competitive. No one wants to beat anybody down. We all want to succeed and do the best we can.”
At Thursday’s meet, which was against Bourne’s unified track team, Wareham junior Donovan McPherson competed. This is his second year on the team, and Miceli noted his encouragement is always welcome.
“He offers the best support,” said Miceli. “Always hyping people up.”
The team has been good for McPherson, too.
“I was nervous about joining the team, everyone has some shyness now and again,” he said. “I adapted very quickly and it’s been very good, very supportive.”
As students moved from event to event, including javelin, shot put, long jump and races, the upbeat atmosphere was infectious.
“You can’t help but smile,” said Miceli.
Lacourse happened to be the final competitor during the day’s last event, the 100-meter dash. As he made his way to the finish line, his teammates surrounded him halfway through, cheering as he walked. At the finish line, he was surprised to hear how long it took.
“I thought it was five minutes,” he said. “It felt like an eternity.”
But now, he has a new goal.
“Next time,” he said. “I’ll be faster.”