Special Olympics Pennsylvania, in coordination with the PIAA, held a livestream late Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of the Unified Track and Field virtual state championship event.
As this year’s York/Lancaster regional champion, McCaskey was one of seven teams in contention for the state crown.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those seven teams held separate virtual events last week, with the times and distances of those athletes having since been compiled to determine the state winners, which were announced Wednesday.
As a team, the Red Tornado placed third in the state, scoring a combined total of 112 points, just four points behind second-place Mount Pleasant, and six points behind first-place Wallenpaupack.
Unified track and field — a program that allows students with intellectual disabilities the chance to compete alongside their classmates — first came to Lancaster County in 2018. This spring, five schools in the county have Unified teams: Ephrata, Garden Spot, Hempfield, McCaskey and Warwick.
The McCaskey Unified team is made up of 21 student-athletes — 11 in special education and 10 in general education.
A Unified meet consists of eight events: 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 800-meter dash, 1,600-meter relay, 400-meter relay, shot put, long jump, and mini-javelin.
Competitors in those events are broken down into multiple categories depending on the type of education and ability to compete. Overall for the state meet, McCaskey had 12 first-place finishes, seven second-place finishes and six third-place finishes.
Given Wednesday’s news, LNP | LancasterOnline conducted a Q&A via email with fourth-year McCaskey Unified Track & Field coach Nicole McCoy, who is a Level 1 certified disability sport specialist and adapted physical education teacher at McCaskey.
That conversation is below. It has been edited for brevity.
What led you to become the McCaskey Unified Track & Field coach?
“My goal in working with students with disabilities is to promote inclusion, acceptance, and awareness. I also strive to provide equal opportunities and experiences for our students with disabilities to be involved in. It was only fitting to want to bring a program such as Interscholastic Unified Sports to McCaskey since it encompasses all of our goals and more.”
After not having a season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how much did it mean to you and the students to get back out on the track this year?
“It was so disheartening to not have a season last year, but our coaching staff and student-athletes didn't skip a beat coming back this year and getting right back into the swing of things. Things looked a little different this season with the various guidelines and protocols that we needed to follow, but our athletes never complained and worked extremely hard ... all of our athletes showed improvement in their times and trials from the first day of practice to our last meet.”
Overall, how special is it for your team to be the regional champion and among the top-seven Unified teams in the state?
“I had no words when our team was announced the regional champion and that we would be competing at states. It was well-deserved. ... I would see some of our athletes a few days, and even weeks, later still wearing their gold medals around school. For me as a coach, there is nothing greater than seeing your athletes have a sense of pride and confidence in themselves and their abilities and knowing that being a member of this team is something that has helped develop that positive self-image. Also, our team unfortunately is still not recognized as a sport. We are seen as a school club. I am hoping that this is a step in the right direction to show that just because we are a Unified team doesn't mean that we are any different from any other team.”
Ckick here for the link to Wednesday's livestream presentation. Coach McCoy chats at the 2:00 mark, and the McCaskey team is featured at the 13:30 mark.