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First of its kind track meet held in Hazleton

Students with special needs competed with and against each other in various track and field events.

HAZLETON, Pa. — The rain showers held off just enough for a first-of-its-kind track meet at Hazleton Area High School.

A unified track meet was held with athletes from throughout Luzerne County.

"I tried my best, you know. It was good, excited," said Atlin Mussedn,  Hazleton Area freshman.

The program sponsored by the Special Olympics allows special needs students to compete alongside their peers in sports.

Students from Hazleton Area, Wyoming Valley West, and Dallas were all in attendance.

"It builds so much self-esteem on both sides," said Dallas unified track coach Tony Chiarucci.

He also says it took a minute for students to warm up to the idea of unified sports.

"When we started this, the special needs were very apprehensive. And the partner kids were very apprehensive because they didn't know them, and after six-seven weeks, whatever it is, it's like they're freakin' family," said Chiarucci.

The cheering was not only coming from fellow track athletes; the Hazleton Area baseball team was rooting on competitors as well.

"Hazleton's undefeated, but yet they're giving up practice time. It really gets everyone together," Chiarucci added.

Hazleton Area High School unified track coach Tricia Marnell says that's what it's all about.

"I mean, look at all around you, and look at the support we're having, not just from the families but from the community as a whole. It's just absolutely amazing. It's a mix of emotions," she said.

Unified Sports is now in more than 4,500 elementary, middle, and high schools across the country.

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