For Wahconah Unified Team, 'Challenge Was Accepted' and Western Mass Title Was Defended
DALTON, Mass. -- Wahconah High School's latest Western Massachusetts Champion team got together on Thursday afternoon for the first time since finding out it is a sectional champ.
The school's Unified Track and Field team left Tuesday's meet at Holyoke High School without knowing whether it had successfully defended its 2018 crown because the results were taking a little while, coach Jennifer Bell said.
Two days later, the Division 2 Western Mass titlists were all smiles and posing for pictures in Ed Ladley Gymnasium as they turn their thoughts to next Wednesday's state meet in Milford.
"It was super fun," Wahconah sophomore Griffin Keifer said of his first season in the second-year program. "I loved all the kids there. I love them all so much. I love how they interact with others and how they boost each other on. It really warms my heart."
Keifer finished second in his flight in the shot put at Tuesday's sectional meet, contributing eight points to the team victory. Wahconah, which placed second at last year's state championships, won the 2019 sectional title with 239 points, 77 ahead of runner-up Holyoke.
Wahconah senior T Warren, one of the captains on the team, echoed Keifer's thoughts on the Unified experience.
"With most varsity sports, it's an individual thing," said Warren, a varsity volleyball and basketball player at Wahconah. "I mean, it's a team thing, too, but if you're going out there competing in track and field, you're going out there for yourself.
"But coming on this team, it's so different because I think everybody on this team is doing it for someone else. Like, we go out there and try our best -- not for ourselves, but for everyone around us. For everybody cheering for us. For the parents. For the coaches. For your teammates.
"It's like a family. And most sports are, but I think this even more is a 'Me last, them first' sport, which I think is really great."
Warren helped the team with wins in the 400 meters and the shot put at Tuesday's sectional, where special education and regular education students competed together and were scored in flights broken out to make sure athletes were competing against others with similar abilities.
"It's a good group of kids," said Helen Jamrog, who placed second in the 100 meters on Tuesday. "I had fun."
Jamrog, like several of the athletes on this spring's track and field team, also competed for Wahconah's Unified Basketball team in the fall. Tony Marra, who won the 400 dash on Tuesday, is another.
"This was my first year doing track," Marra said. "Track focuses more on speed, which is kind of what I was good at in basketball. I was good getting the ball quickly to the hoop and scoring."
Marra said the larger Western Mass meet, which included four Division 1 schools and seven in D2, was an adjustment after the regular season competitions that featured two or three teams at a time.
"It was different, but the challenge was accepted," Marra said. "And I just did the best that I could because, honestly, that's what we can do."
Wahconah High long has cultivated a culture of inclusion for students of all abilities. The school's students have been active supporters of and participants in the annual Berkshire County Arc's Buddy Walk of the Berkshires. Warren participates in the school's Best Buddies program, a club that brings students of all abilities together for bowling arts and crafts and other activities.
Captain Alisa Mara, who placed third in her flight in the javelin on Tuesday, said that Unified Sports have taken the atmosphere of inclusion to a new level.
"I see a lot of people congratulating us in the hallways, giving our kids high fives," Mara said. "It's really special. That's the kind of thing that not every school has. It's kind of unique to Wahconah."