On March 7, Milton Superintendent of Schools Mary Gormley posted on her blog that Milton High School would be fielding a Unified Track and Field team beginning this spring. Unified sports are in association with the Special Olympics that offers athletics to those with physical and intellectual disabilities.
There are currently over 73 schools in Massachusetts and 1.4 million people across the globe who participate in Unified sports. With the establishment of the Unified Track and Field team, Milton High is set to join the growing list of participants.
“The Milton Public Schools District has done an amazing job with its Special Education Department, and Milton High School understands that sports are viewed as an extension of the classroom,” said Ryan Madden, Milton High’s athletic director. “As the AD, it’s my job to ensure that we offer programs for all students. After reviewing some areas of need and working with other athletic directors in the Bay State Conference, it was clear what program we needed to add: Unified Track and Field.”
The team held its first practice on March 25, which was mostly a meeting with interested athletes and parents. The following day was an introduction to the variety of track and field events.
Unified Track and Field contains a total of seven events: long jump, shot put, javelin, 4x100m relay, 4x400m relay, 4x800m relay, and one other relay event. The following week was to be the beginning of actual practice.
The team’s current practice schedule is every Monday and Tuesday with Thursday (except for one Tuesday) reserved for meet days.
The Wildcats Unified team will debut on April 9 at Brockton High School. Two weeks later, Milton travels to Weymouth to take on the “other” Wildcats. The squad will have their long-awaited Brooks Field premiere when they take on Westwood High in their first home meet on May 2. The inaugural regular season concludes on May 9 with the Wildcats hosting Hingham. All meets will begin at 3:30 pm, while all practices will be held at Brooks Field.
Tabbed as the team’s first head coach is Ashley Assarian.
“Growing up, I was actively involved in sports and working camps for kids of all ages, so I knew from an early age that I wanted to work in a school system and be an advocate for youth,” said Assarian, who is also an assistant with the girls basketball team. “Milton has given me the opportunity to do both. Working in the Special Education Department as well as coaching girls basketball here at Milton High, my involvement with both populations has been nothing short of rewarding. It was an honor to be asked to coach Milton’s first unified program, and I am beyond grateful to be a part of this movement.”
The creation of a Unified Track and Field team was something for which the school and the town had been clamoring for a few years.
When Madden took the job as athletic director, he made it his goal to establish an all-inclusive sports program.
“Similar districts, such as Walpole, Westwood, and Weymouth, have all taken that leap toward creating a fully comprehensive and inclusive athletics program,” said Madden, “Thankfully, with the help of Principal James Jette and Superintendent Gormley, Milton High can also make that leap.”
As Madden stated, he was not the only member of the Milton High front office who deserves credit for the formation of the team.
Jette and Gormley played key parts in creating the squad while, in turn, Gormley credits Madden, Assarian, and Lynda-Lee Sheridan for their part in beginning what she hopes will eventually lead to a year-round Unified Sports program at Milton High.
“On behalf of the Milton Public Schools, I want to thank Mr. Madden for making a Unified Track and Field team a reality for Milton High’s students,” Gormley said, “When Mr. Madden was hired two years ago, he asked if we had a Unified sports program and has worked to create the program, beginning with spring track. Special thanks go to Special Education Out-of-District Coordinator Sheridan for advocating on behalf of our students for the program to begin this season. I also thank Ms. Assarian for serving as the track coach. I hope this is just the beginning of a full array of fall, winter, and spring Unified Sports options and teams.”
With the birth of a new team at Milton comes another opportunity for champions to be crowned and add to the already storied history of Milton High School athletics. Students with disabilities have witnessed their athletic classmates achieve great success in recent years and now have the opportunity to achieve their own.
There’s no doubt that athletes, coaches, faculty members, and the town are excited to see what the team can do when the season starts, but most importantly, the pride each group has of finally having a Unified Sports team at the local high school is something unmatched.
“Since this is recognized as an MIAA sport, we challenge our student athletes and partners to compete among one another at the best of their abilities and most importantly, have fun,” Assarian said.
“There is no other single athletic program that exhibits more joy than a Unified sports team,” Madden said. “For the first time in many of these students’ lives, they aren’t viewed as students with special needs, but rather Milton High student-athletes. It is a team with students of varying talents and abilities competing as one. It isn’t about winning or losing, but rather, building lasting relationships with peers. It’s about the inclusivity of all students.”