Newton South Unified Track finishes season with enthusiasm, pride

Newton South’s Unified Track team wrapped up its season at Natick High School on May 28. South was impossible to miss among the plethora of teams competing in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) state championship meet as South’s strong runners flew around the track, cheered on loudly by their teammates, and as everyone’s shirt was soaked through from the team’s annual water fight. 

Junior Kate Grabowski said the state meet was an exciting culmination for the team, whose energy and spirit were present and contagious all season long. 

“It’s always really exciting getting on the bus as a team with the anticipation leading up to it and then having so much happening at once,” she said. “And I feel like it’s a big team-building event. Like we’re all there doing our events and bonding.”

Athletes who didn’t qualify for the state meet still came to support their teammates, which was a rewarding experience for sophomore Rory McGovern. 

“It was just really great to see everyone who has been working so hard all season get out there and just blow everyone away and do so great. And it was just nice to hang out with everyone for the last day,” she said.

Unified Track offers an inclusive space for students of all physical and intellectual abilities to compete with their classmates. Grabowski said the experience has given her the opportunity to meet new people. 

“I’ve met a lot of people through Unified Track that I don’t think I would have gotten as close with if it hadn’t been for it,” she said. “It’s something that I look forward to and it’s just a positive experience, especially with it being in the spring, like it’s a great way to finish out the year on such a high note with such a good community.”

Junior Natalie Curtis said she cherishes the relationships she has been able to build through Unified Track. 

“You’re able to make a lot of friends from different grades, and nobody gets judged,” she said.

The team was able to cultivate such a fun and positive environment because of the group’s special mix of people, according to senior Ivan Estes.

“My favorite part is the fantastic mix of personality, energy and enthusiasm that we’ve got on our team,” he said.

Unified Track’s focus of having fun and creating a positive community is what makes the team special, Athletic Director Patrica Gonzalez said. She said watching the group brightens her days. 

“With Unified, you see what sports should be about. Every single time, they show you the camaraderie they have with each other. The joy of being able to achieve your goal. Doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest runner or you’re not. The joy of friendships and the sense that you guys work together. Not against each other. Not competing for a spot, but working together,” she said. 

The joy and enthusiasm that the team radiates is what means the most to Coach Kevin Flynn. It shone through in the many cups of water the team threw at one another during the state meet.

“Seeing the faces and the excitement of the kids who participate on the team when they finish an event, seeing their smile, I would say that’s probably one of my favorite parts,” he said.

The ever-present support at meets makes the Unified Track community so special, even for opposing schools. The team won the MIAA Sportsmanship Award last season and Estes said encouraging others only adds to the fun.

“Honestly, for me, it’s not as fun to run around the track or chuck the shot put as it is to cheer everybody else on while they’re doing it, even people from the other teams. I remember last year, I was always cheering on everybody whether they were on our team or not,” he said. 

“It’s a lot of fun to make sure everybody else is having fun.”