Unified Track team races way to successful season


Maureen Gambogi

Special Olympics takes to the track looking to cross the finish line and find the gold.

No matter what you are capable of, anyone that has the determination and courage can cross the finish line with pride. Starting as one of the first Unified Track teams in the country to compete against hundreds of districts, the North Penn Unified Track team has been training on the track to work towards defeating their competition.

Branching off of Special Olympics, this PIAA sport allows student-athletes with and without disabilities to work together in order to succeed on and off the track. Both the partners and athletes compete in one track and one field event. The running events include the 100 meter, 200 meter, and the 400 meter. In addition, 100 and 400 meter relays are also available for competition. Shot put, long jump, and mini javelin are all part of the program’s field events.

“A common misperception is that just the athletes participate in the events and this is not the case. It’s fun because all participants get to contribute to the team’s success,” Byrnes, head coach of the Unified Track team, stated.

Starting in 2016, this program has helped grow other Special Olympic sports to be added to North Penn. As one of the first Unified Track teams in the country, it has encouraged other districts to take part in this program. In 2017, Unified Bocce was added and North Penn was given the Champion title a few years later. With Covid in 2020, the first day of practice was the day the district got shut down so the season was canceled and the following year, the program hosted a Heptathlon to keep the program up and running. This year, Unified Track is finally back to normal and the bonds with the partners and athletes are stronger than ever.

“It’s an awesome environment. If you want to become more involved in school activities, joining Unified Track is a great way to do that,” Lupinacci, a partner, and Penn Relays qualifier, explained.

Not only are the participants looking to finish their race with a good time, but they are also searching for having a good time with one another. Being able to take a step out of a teenager’s comfort zone and create long-lasting friendships with people they don’t normally interact with is all part of the experience. It doesn’t just establish new connections but gives high schoolers the experience to work with people that might not have similar experiences as them.

“One of my favorite parts is seeing students start as complete strangers at the beginning of the season and develop great friendships by the end of the season. Unified Track gives students the opportunity to get to know kids that may be different from the kids they see in their classes or in other activities. Just the pure nature of competing together fosters great connections,” Byrnes noted.

To become more familiar with the events and with each other, the team practices twice a week. Their practice time gives kids who are unfamiliar with the track to learn and enhance their comfort level with competing.

“I would like to win a few meets. We always work hard at the practices we have and we also encourage each other to get better. Everybody participating wants to win so it is important to me to do my part,” Lupinacci confirmed.

It is important to sign up early because there are only 40 students that the program can have on the roster. Yet, Byrnes is looking to add a junior varsity team in the upcoming seasons with more people that continue to sign up.

Catch the North Penn Unified Track team come together in upcoming meets and in Penn Relays on April 27 as this program dashes towards a great season and a bright future.