Doss High School in Louisville added Unified Track to its Sports Offerings this Year.
A regular participant in the JCPS Unified Basketball league, Doss High School took on a new challenge this year by also participating in Unified Track & Field. Their experience ended up being a wonderful display of the friendship and dedication that can come from participating in Unified Sports.
One of the most noteworthy friendships was between unified athlete, Lucas Mathis and his peer partner, Desmond Benham. Desmond, a Senior and reigning 400 meter State Champion helped start the unified team by talking to his Coach who in turned spoke to Special Education teachers, Amanda Taylor and Alesha Thompson. Despite no knowledge of Track & Field, Alesha and Amanda agreed to bring this new opportunity to their students.
During the regular season, Lucas and Desmond teamed up to compete in Long Jump, the 2×50, the 2×200 and the 4×100 Relay. As Amanda and Alesha learned along the way, Desmond stepped up to help coach Lucas and fellow unified athletes, Trevor Henderson and Hunter Grodan. All season Desmond participated in both his varsity events and the unified events, until a leg injury forced him to miss the State Qualifying Regional meet, ultimately ending his hopes to defend his state championship. Despite suffering this devastating news, he did not want to let Lucas, Trevor and Hunter down in the unified events. Although not yet fully healed, a last-minute request to the KHSAA meant Desmond would get his chance to run with Lucas one more time.
The State meet was held at the University of Kentucky. Shortly after Doss won the first unified event, the meet was postponed by thunderstorms. All teams were sent home and told their competition would resume the next day. For Doss, complications in transportation, peer partner and coach schedules meant the team was likely not going to make it back the next day.
This was the case until Amanda received an unexpected call from Desmond. He found replacement partners for those who could not return, and wanted to figure out a way to finish the State meet. All existing plans were cancelled and the team made it back to Lexington barely in time for the next unified race. Lucas and Desmond paired up once again in the 2×50 to bring home another medal. In total Doss brought home medals in all five unified events including Lucas earning First Place in all four of his events.
Although the peer partners and unified athletes knew each other from various school activities, the chance to compete as teammates, really fostered friendships, especially for Lucas and Desmond. Desmond hopes to run in college next year and Lucas and his teammates hope to support him by cheering from the stands. Amanda expects the students will keep in touch beyond graduation.
Regarding what the partnership has meant to them, Desmond says “I felt like it was a good thing to do. Seeing the joy when they win is just so amazing, building a bond with Lucas, Trevor and Hunter”.
Trevor Henderson says “our friendship was Awesome! He (Desmond) tells me I run fast, Super Speed!”
Hunter Grodan states what has meant the most to him is “Building a bond with peers, making friends with them and others on the team.”
Of the experience, Lucas Mathis states, “It was cool and I think they (the Peers) were all awesome!”
Amanda Taylor hopes it will be impactful for other Doss students and inspire them to become Peer Partners. She says, “The best part… was to not only see the light in my students’ eyes but the growth of our peers as understanding and caring individuals. Even other students on the track team were so supportive to watch and cheer our kids on.”
She adds, “It was extremely moving to see how bad Desmond cared to make sure we could get them to go participate. You don’t find many people with a true caring heart like his.”
Amanda says she also “wants to strive harder to make a difference and keep trying to sponsor things that can help make bonds and friendships that will include our students more.”
Alesha Thompson adds “It was a great learning experience for both the peers and athletes. It taught the peers character, patience, and acceptance.”
Doss High School’s first experience with Unified Track & Field will certainly be a memorable one and is a wonderful example of inclusion from a selfless student who chose to truly make a difference for others.
For information about how to get your school involved in Unified Sports, contact Karen Michalak-Parsley at 502-326-5002 or email@example.com.