Unified Track Short, but Sweet Season

League Champions Again: The Nashoba Unified Track team wins back-to-back league titles.
Courtesy Tania Rich

By Ellen Oliver

Nashoba’s unified track team had a short, but very sweet season, earning their second league championship. “It was a little bittersweet this year,” explained Coach Matt Ettinger. “We had four meets and three were cancelled due to weather and scheduling issues. One was able to be rescheduled, but we didn’t get the same competition as last year.”

Last year, Nashoba walked away with the first championship title and easily repeated the feat on May 18th for back-to-back wins. “Last year was a nail biter,” said Ettinger. “This year we did really well and won a lot of events.”

Nashoba may have easily outpaced the competition, but there were still some tense moments during the championship meet. “In the 4×400 relay, only the winning team earns points,” said Ettinger, relating how balancing a team of disabled and non-disabled students contributes to a strategy. “Two students with disabilities ran first for us. The other schools didn’t do that and they got way ahead,” said the coach. “Our non disabled athletes came in and closed an amazing gap. We won by a tenth of a second.”

The league meet was awesome,” said Ettinger. In addition to the happiness with the win, Ettinger explained that the team remained intact as they moved through the events. “Last year we were broken into  groups and moved through stations. This year we stayed together and were able to watch and cheer for each other,” he said.

Now in its second year, the unified track team is comprised of special education student athletes and regular education athletes and is a varsity sport, recognized by the Mid-Wach league. Nashoba is one of twelve schools in the league, up from nine in 2012.

Ettinger said just as the league expanded, so did his roster, growing from 32 to 48 students. “The first year it was an unknown. We did so well, more kids wanted to join.” Ettinger said the unified track program offers an opportunity for athletes of any ability to try the sport, while others are drawn by the opportunity to work with the students with disabilities.

A strong competitor from Stow, Nick Giovinazzo, is one of the unified track athletes who stood out to Coach Ettinger. “When he wants to learn something, he is so attentive,” said the coach. “He does his best to improve and apply what you are teaching him.” The coach said Giovinazzo got his best time ever running the 100m in the league meet. “He found another gear,” laughed the coach.

The coach also noted the improvement of Charlie Miyata, from Bolton, who is new to unified track this year. “Charlie is a super runner, but he had some trouble staying in his lane at first,” related Ettinger. “After an event, he’d ask me if I saw that he stayed in his lane. He’s extremely positive and a nice kid.”

With 48 athletes on the team, Ettinger explained that practices were busy times. He’d divide the kids into groups of four to six kids and then run them through the stations for turbo javelin, shot put and the running events. “I leaned on one or two of the seniors to keep an eye on everyone and keep everything on task.”

While the team didn’t have any captains, the coach said he relied a lot on Inana Dairi, a senior who works with the Best Buddies program and Miles Hammill, a sophomore from Stow. “They were super helpful,” he said. “I’d instinctively look to Miles to warm up the team every day. He’d lead them through some dynamic exercises to get things started.” Ettinger also appreciated help from parents Clara Murphy and Joe Kennedy and Bolton resident Hank Amabile.

While the coach and the team may have wanted more competitive events through the season, they aren’t disappointed with the end results. “The highlight of the season was definitely the league meet,” said Ettinger. With the 2013 unified track program extending to 270 athletes across the league, it looks like the Chieftains will get the competition they crave, hopefully while still nabbing the medals at the close of the season.