Smiles abound at county Unified track and field meet


Ear-to-ear smiles aren’t normally spotted during the home stretch of the 400-meter dash.

And yet there was Greenwood junior Khup Thang, savoring every step, every bit of competition, as he sprinted toward the finish line at the Indian Creek track.

Regardless of what place he was in, Thang was winning. And grinning.

He wasn’t alone.

Wednesday’s annual Johnson County Unified track and meet again delivered the combination of all-out effort, unlimited amounts of encouragement and the kind of smiles that are, to say the least, contagious.

The host Braves welcomed Unified teams representing Center Grove, Franklin, Greenwood and Whiteland. Times and distances were recorded and scores were kept, but by meet’s end, the numbers took a rather distant back seat to the positivity that encompasses such a meet.

“Outside of this event, this team, they might not otherwise compete on a team,” fourth-year Center Grove coach Tianna Coleman said. “But it’s a friendly competitiveness. It’s not an excessive competitiveness, and so everyone comes together as one big group, and it’s kind of like a family.

“You have to attend a meet to get the full experience. Practices might not look like much, but meets are where the magic happens.”

Unified track combines athletes of all abilities — those with or without physical and intellectual disabilities. The sport is designed to create an inclusive environment where everyone can come together to compete.

Along the way, efforts are applauded, confidence is elevated and friendships are made.

This latest county meet included no less than 100 athletes, all of whom gathered near Indian Creek’s midfield logo afterward so that group photos could be taken.

“It’s just to have fun with everyone, and to be included,” said Franklin senior Maria Shaw, who ran the second leg of the Grizzlies’ 4×100 during her third county meet. “And making friends with everyone.”

In Unified track, everyone roots for everyone.

The invisible walls of traditional rivalries were nowhere to be found, whether it was Thang bolting toward the finish, Indian Creek’s Robert Dillingham kicking up sand in the jump or Center Grove senior Kimmi Johnson taking the baton as part of the Trojans’ effort.

“I like it because I get to hang out with all my teammates and everything, and I like to have fun,” said Dillingham, who was also on the Braves’ 4×100 team. “It’s more about having fun being out here.”

Unified meets feature five events — the 100- and 400-meter dashes, shot put, jump and 4×100 . An abundance of athleticism and team spirit was showcased throughout the meet, which took approximately 90 minutes to finish.

“It’s all about the athletes. It’s all about everyone getting out and having an opportunity to have fun,” Franklin coach Haley Anderson-Roberts said. “Yes, it’s competitive, but it’s not about who’s the No. 1 athlete. We’re all here for each other. We’re not only supporting our team, we’re supporting the other teams.”

Indian Creek senior Olivia Pendleton, who was also a member of the girls basketball team, likes the opportunities Unified track and presents.

“It just includes everybody,” Pendleton said. “We didn’t have a Unified basketball team. We would do it in between games, but a lot of times there aren’t enough people. This gives everyone a chance to participate and to cheer everybody else on.”

The meet on Wednesday was the final county showcase for Indian Creek Unified coach Sharon Hogue, a special education teacher at the school who is going to retire following the 2024-25 school year.

Under her leadership, Indian Creek has been at the forefront of the growth of Unified in Johnson County.

“I’m going to miss it terribly,” Hogue said. “Just being with the kids and watching the encouragement they give each other. My kids are like everybody else here. There’s no difference.

“We’re just one big team.”



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