March 15, 2024

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Unified Sports Track Meet at Marina High Brings Smiles

3 min read
Unified Sports Track Meet at Marina High Brings Smiles

In the early hours of Thursday, Harlee Thomas was sitting on a bench at Marina High.

At the Huntington Beach Union High School District’s Unified Sports track meet, Thomas supported her Edison High teammates. Whether they were general education or special education didn’t seem to matter.

Nalani Yang, an Edison special education student, was approached by Thomas, who turned to inquire about her enjoyment.

“Yes,” Yang gave a cordial response. “My closest friend is you.”

Thomas smiled back.

“You’re my best friend, too,” she responded.

At the Special Olympics Orange County-sponsored track meet, cooperation was the watchword. It included relay races, a long jump, a softball toss, and sprints and races up to 400 meters. Participants included students from the host Marina, Ocean View, Edison, Fountain Valley, and Westminster high schools.

Jen Letterman, one of two Unified Sports liaisons for Marina along with Butch Fredlow, said there were about 250 Unified Sports athletes and their general education “partners” participating, as well as members from the Integrated programs for band and cheer.

There are a number of rivalries between the schools in the district, but on Thursday, none existed. Carlos Castellanos, the head coach of the Marina track team, said he had some of his athletes there volunteering to help with activities and time competitions.

“I think this is why coaches get into sports, to help get a whole district, get a whole program together, get a whole community together to support other students,” Castellanos said. “Track and field seems to be a sport where we can promote inclusion, which is a cause that is currently being promoted. We are therefore experiencing a thrilling event today.”

Senior Jade Bumanglag, president of the school’s Unified Sports program, said she enjoyed seeing everyone involved and the genuine smiles on both administrators and participants’ faces.

“We wanted to make it super-fun,” Bumanglag said. “We display uplifting signs, balloons, and games in the middle for all the athletes and their partners. And we appreciate our school’s help so much. We have students studying sports medicine, a color guard, band, cheer, and dance.”

Throughout the academic year, a Unified Sports event is held at each district school. The last one will take place on May 25 when Westminster hosts a football day.

Isis Salazar admitted that she had never taken part in a Unified Sports event before, but she is happy she did. Those who watched her dominate in girls’ soccer at Ocean View were not surprised by her speed in the 100 meters.

“I was talking to my partner [Craig Earnest] and he said that it was so cool that they get to feel included,” Salazar said. “It’s definitely true that those who don’t think they’re good enough can still compete, I said. That’s fantastic, in my opinion, because they can now demonstrate their continued presence.”

Senior Jack Todd, who competes in the 400 as his main event, said he enjoyed racing. In a dual meet on Wednesday against Newport Harbor, he ran the 400, and on Saturday, Marina will compete in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational meet, he will run the 400 in the Distance Medley Relay.

Even though the stakes at Thursday’s meet were clearly lower, it was still enjoyable.

“There was a lot of hype here,” Todd said. “Whether you were in special education or not, everyone was supporting one another. This place had the impression of being very big. Track is exactly that, but today it was really good, which was cool.”


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