Volunteer among eight schools in state sending Special Olympic athletes to state track meet

Jeff Bobo • Apr 19, 2018 at 5:30 PM

CHURCH HILL — Volunteer High School has been chosen as one of eight schools in Tennessee to send a Special Olympics team to the May 24 TSSAA state track meet in Murfreesboro as part of the inaugural Unified Track and Field State Invitational.

In preparation for that event, on Friday Volunteer will be the first high school in Tennessee to host a Unified track meet which will feature Special Olympics athletes competing beside their counterparts on the varsity squads.

On Thursday and Friday VHS hosts the Horizon Credit Union Prom Classic track and field meet featuring the Falcons versus visitors Daniel Boone, Dobyns-Bennett, Morristown East, Morristown West, West Greene and Grainger County.

Joining those competitors on Friday will be the five members of Volunteer High School's Special Olympics “Unified” track and field team, whose events will coincide with the varsity events.

For example, immediately after the varsity girls and boys complete in their 100 meter heats, the Unified team will run its inter-squad race. The same will be the case for other Unified events Friday including the 200 meter, the 4X100 meter relay, long jump, and the shot put.

Volunteer's Unified track team consists of senior Clint Barrett; juniors Hunter Johnson and Lindsey Trent; sophomore Gabriel Morelock; and freshman Elizabeth Berry.

They will be assisted during their events by student peer tutors Evan Berry, Caleb Rogers, Lucas Umbarger, Jacob Haynes, and Sara Burnette.

Volunteer has a long history of hosting Special Olympics events, and its invitation to the TSSAA state meet was thanks to the efforts of special education teacher Christy Thacker.

Thacker said Volunteer’s Unified athletes have been training hard for Friday’s meet, as well as for the state meet on May 24.

"They're already qualified for the TSSAA meet," Thacker noted. "On Friday we're just trying to improve their scores so they'll have a better chance of winning. On May 24 they're running against seven other schools from the state of Tennessee. Friday's times will go toward the or preliminary events in Murfreesboro to put them in the right heats, and they can actually qualify for the Special Olympics state event in Nashville as well (on May 18-19)."

Although Unified athletes will only be competing against each other on Friday, at the TSSAA state meet they’ll be competing against athletes from Glencliff High School in Nashville, Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Harpeth High School in Kingston Springs, Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Sycamore High School in Pleasant View, and White County High School in Sparta.

Volunteer H.S. track and field coach Jim Ailshie noted that the Murfreesboro meet is the biggest and most pretigious stage for high school runners in Tennessee. 

“This is quite a big deal for our Unified student athletes, especially with this being promoted for the first time by the TSSAA at the state meet," Aishie told the Times News Tuesday. "With the event we're hosting Friday, as far as I know Volunteer will be hosting the first track meet in the state which will include the Unified Student Athlete events in a meet program. We'll recognize those five athletes before their events."

Ailshie added, "These students have the desire to compete, they always have a smile on their face. It's going to foster the true value of high school athletics, and we're privileged to be perhaps one of the first ones to incorporate the Unified student athletes into our track program."

Competition begins at 5 p.m. at Volunteer H.S. on both Thursday and Friday.


Video: Volunteer’s Unified Special Education team practices the 4X100 relay this past Saturday:

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