Fighting for a future of inclusion for all - KPTV - FOX 12

Fighting for a future of inclusion for all

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EUGENE, OR (KPTV) -

While the NCAA championships are headed to Track Town in two weeks, Saturday marked the third and final day of the OSAA State Track and Field meet in Eugene.

The Oregon state championships also capped off the season with more inclusion for para-athletes, where this time, it really counted. But there can always be more. 

From the starting gun to the finish line, competitors of all ages, genders and abilities spoke about the magic of Hayward Field. 

Gladstone High School student Adin Williams said, “It’s like an explosion. It’s like a reaction.”

He added, “A lot more is on the line, it's a much bigger deal when it comes to state.” 

While para-athletes have competed at the OSAA state meet in Eugene in the past, this year was a little different. For the first time, those para-event points, like earlier this year at the state swim meet, counted towards the team totals.

“It’s all an attempt to try and figure out, how can we get more students involved in our schools? And if it means they score points for their schools then maybe coaches are more likely to go and beat the bushes and try to find them and get them involved,” said Peter Weber, OSAA executive director. 

Mother Gina Schuermyer said, “It’s part of the whole high school experience. Being part of a team, competing with others. Being seen as an athlete as others are seen as an athlete.”

While para-athlete parents are pleased with the OSAA’s strides of inclusion, they and the kids feel like it still falls short.

“Let’s have athletes compete against other athletes no matter what their distinction is if they are a para-athlete or they are an able-bodied athlete,” said Schuermyer. 

Mother Brandi Bolnick said, “There's also that lack of Hayward magic when, well, I can be out there doing that 1,500 and everyone else is doing that 1,500 so it's a conflict.”

Wheelchair athletes like Wilsonville High School’s Kayla Bolnick and David Douglas High School’s Josiah Schuermyer competed in the distances all season long, but the 100 and 400-meter sprints were the lone two para-events offered at state.

“Step by step and we have to keep pushing OSAA to look in their eyes and see what they are feeling and get them out there to see,” Bolnick said. “These kids want to do this. Give them the option. Let them go out there and participate as everyone else does.” 

Weber calls it a work in progress.

“What we are looking at trying to do with the support of the inclusion committee is figure out ways that we can get more kids involved and the more kids we can get involved and the more events we can look at, now just in swimming and track but maybe could be expanded to further things and that is the goal. Getting more kids involved in the events so they can have access to those great opportunities that all of those other kids have,” he said. 

Kacey McCallister and Zach Abbott are coaches with World Wheelchair Sports. They competed at state when it was just an exhibition.

“We were just kind of the motivational wheelchair kids on the side but we are working to change all of those perceptions,” McCallister said. 

Abbott said, “That's a great step forward. We still have a long way to go but you can’t complain about progress.”

They’re fighting for a future of full inclusion for all. 

“Wheelchairs against wheelchairs. Ambulatory against ambulatory at state, that would be perfect,” said Josiah Schuermyer. 

“I would like to see boys and girls not race the same heat … I wish there was a lot of things different,” said Kayla Bolnick. “I am hoping by senior year, everything will be a little better.” 

Williams said, “It will be interesting to see which events pop up in the future but to have this count for our high school is a very big thing and very helpful.”

In all, five athletes competed in the two para-heats. Josiah Schuermyer set a PR in the 100 and won the 400 meters. He is hoping to attend the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Wisconsin this summer. 

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