ASHLAND – A parade through downtown Ashland, a visit from a former Husker football star and the presentation of a banner honoring Ashland-Greenwood Public School’s designation as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School are just the pregame festivities for the real star of the day – a track meet with over 200 participants from 11 schools.
On Wednesday, April 28, Ashland will host its third Unified Track Meet. But before the athletes start competing, there will be a morning full of special activities.
“It’ll be a big day for us,” said Superintendent Jason Libal.
The day begins at 10 a.m. as the unified team parades through downtown Ashland to honor the athletes and the local businesses that have partnered in the event, according to Kristin Fangmeyer, AGPS director of student services and special education coordinator.
At 10:15 a.m., the athletes will head to the track and field complex, where they will enjoy a rally with guest speaker DeMoine Adams, a former Husker football player who is now a motivational speaker. The Ashland-Greenwood Unified Cheer Team will also perform, and the school will be presented with a national banner that signifies the commitment to inclusion shown by the district.
Last fall, the Special Olympics declared Ashland-Greenwood an official Special Olympics national banner Unified Champion School after meeting the 10 national standards of excellence. But the pandemic delayed the banner presentation until spring, Fangmeyer said.
According to Special Olympics, about 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a fun way. During unified sports competition, a Special Olympics athlete is paired with another student or adult, creating a unified partnership that works together during each event.
Ashland-Greenwood hosted the first unified track meet in the state in 2018. Students from eight schools participated. A second track meet was held the next year, but 2020’s event was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school has hosted other unified events since 2018, including high school football and basketball games, a t-ball game for the elementary students and last month a Kindness Olympics, also for elementary-age kids.