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Hand In Hand

By JIM PETERS - Staff WriterMay 19, 2019

GRIFFITH — As Chesterton’s Claire Brendza and Hannah Stevens of Merrillville came churning down the home stretch of the 400-meter dash, well behind the rest of the runners in their section, the pair were giving it all they had, pumping their arms and grinning ear to ear as the crowd cheered them on the finish line.

The image epitomized Saturday’s Griffith Unified Track Sectional, where even grouchy Mother Nature was in a rare good mood, blessing the meet with sunshine and warm temperatures.

“First and foremost, it doesn’t matter who you are, we all want to compete,” La Porte coach Andy Doty said. “In some way, shape or form, we’re always competing. As coach and athletes, you want to win, but it doesn’t matter.”

The sport, in its sixth year under the Indiana High School Athletic Association umbrella and its fifth year at La Porte, is the best of both worlds for Doty, a Special Education teacher who previously coached track at the high school.

“Just allowing the special education athletes to be in a varsity sport, where it’s about them, then you add the (general education) aspect to it, this is what inclusion is. This is what we fight for. Just watching the kids come down the hall in their letter jackets, that right there means more than anything. It’s amazing.”

The structure of the meet allows athletes of all physical abilities to participate on a relatively even playing field. Groupings are made based on performances during the regular season, fastest vs. fastest and so on in the 100 and 400 and 400 relay, and by distances in the long jump and shot put. Each section is then scored individually, allowing for everyone to feel like they contributed to their team.

A total of 217 students from 13 schools, 12 from northwest Indiana in addition to Penn, put their best foot forward with Valparaiso, 38 athletes strong, capturing the team title. It will advance to Saturday’s Kokomo Regional along with runner-up Lake Central and third-place Penn. Michigan City finished seventh and La Porte 12th.

“Every year is good,” Doty said. “Every year, it’s grown. It’s just evolving, kind of like it has with the state. Our first year (2015), I think we might have had seven athletes and there might’ve been 16 teams state-wide. It was word of mouth, just trying to get the program going. This year, we ended up having 24. It just progresses each year.”

Eight sectional sites hosted 116 schools across Indiana on Saturday.

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