The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control approved the addition of a Unified Track & Field event at their meeting on Monday. This competition, which will initially begin as an Invitational Championship, is to be first implemented during the 2018 Spring Fling Championships. The decision marks the beginning of a partnership between TSSAA and Special Olympics Tennessee in Unified Sports.
Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by the principle that practicing and competing together promotes inclusion and understanding to help break down stereotypes.
TSSAA member schools with existing Unified Track & Field programs will have until Oct. 1 to notify Special Olympics Tennessee of their desire to participate. For the inaugural year, eight teams will be invited by Special Olympics Tennessee to take part in the event. The TSSAA desires to officially sanction the sport of Unified Track & Field in subsequent years, involving more schools and implementing qualifying sectionals.
Bernard Childress, executive director of the TSSAA, expressed excitement over the partnership with Special Olympics Tennessee. “Special Olympics Tennessee has done amazing work in our state for a long time and we are thrilled to be working with them to enhance our State Championship experience. The addition of Unified Sports and the relationship we have begun with Special Olympics will have an extremely positive impact on athletics and student-athletes across our state. Whenever we can make a decision that provides opportunities for more student-athletes, that is a direction we want to go.”
Alan Bolick, president of Special Olympics Tennessee, stated his appreciation to the Board of Control and staff of TSSAA and echoed similar sentiments. "The establishment of this unique partnership will no doubt have a positive influence on creating more inclusive environments in our public and private schools as well as the communities in Tennessee where these athletes live."
Events included in the inaugural TSSAA Unified Track & Field Invitational will be the 100 meter Dash, 400 meter Run, 4x100 meter Relay, Shot Put, and Long Jump. The Unified Track & Field events will be incorporated into the existing Spring Fling Track & Field schedule, with individual medals awarded and a Unified Track & Field Champion and Runner-up team decided.