ELKHART — Students and staff at Elkhart Memorial High School gathered in the hallway for a send-off celebration Friday to recognize several track athletes before they left for the state meet in Bloomington.
The school’s boys and girls track teams are headed to state as is the unified track team – the defending state champs – who qualified after becoming the regional champions last week.
The teams paraded through the halls of the high school to music played by the school’s marching band.
Students came out in droves. Some recorded the parade with cell phones and others high-fived the athletes as they walked down the hallway.
Memorial has had a unified team for only three years. Since its inception, the team has tripled in size, going from 16 participants to 48.
Last year, the team made history by winning the school’s first team state title.
“It’s pretty awesome to be going back to back to the state finals,” said head coach Todd Sheely. “For some of these kids to get out of Elkhart and go down to see Bloomington and be a participant in a state tournament is something I don’t think we ever thought would happen, so it’s pretty special."
Sheely said he believes that great teamwork and student leadership has contributed to the team’s success.
“We also have an administration that backs us and supports us, which is important because some schools don’t have that, and when you’re trying to start a sports from scratch, you have to have that otherwise it’s not going to be successful,” he said. “I’ve got kids that have been with me for all three years and they’ve instilled a sense of team and recognizing that we’re all a part of this.”
Logan Mullins, a senior unified track athlete at Memorial, said he’s excited to go to state and believes the team has a good chance at winning another state title.
“I think it would be really cool to go back-to-back for my last year and to make history again,” he said. “I really hope we can pull it off ... we’re a great team.”
Another student, Viviana Ponce, a junior unified track athlete, said she hopes to win again, but mostly looks forward to hanging with her teammates and making the most of the trip.
“We were fortunate to go last year and it’s even more exciting to be going again,” Ponce said.
The unified track team is divided into Partners and Athletes. Partners are general education students who don’t have cognitive disabilities and Athletes are students who have cognitive disabilities and are recognized as special education students.
For the boys and girls track teams, head coach Adam Homo said the team consists of 28 students, which is the highest contingent the school has taken downstate since 2008.
“I’m really proud of these kids, they’ve all worked really hard to get to this point,” he said. “We’ve got about 410 or 420 track teams in the state of Indiana, and when you’re in the top 27, it doesn’t really matter where you place, you’re top 27, which is quite an accomplishment in the context of what we are as a state.”