Track Meet At High School Gives Students with Special Needs ‘Full High School Experience’


This Thursday, Peninsula High School hosted an inaugural Palos Verdes-Peninsula Unified Sports Track Meet, which involved students with special needs.

Despite the ongoing debate about Special Olympics funding, this track meet was a HUGE success. Patrick Daley, Peninsula boys’ soccer coach and event coordinator rounded up more than 80 student-athletes, including nearly 60 students with special needs. These students participated in the three track events, which included the 50 and 100-meter dash, and the 4×100-meter relay.

Betsy Fujinaga, Peninsula’s special education skills for independence teacher, was excited to give Peninsula’s students with special needs a chance to enjoy something different. She got the process started a few years ago, reaching out to the Special Olympics organization so Peninsula could become a Unified Champions School.

“I love every opportunity that we can give to our students to get the full high school experience. To have the crowd cheering for them, running with their peers, using the school’s facilities, having the band and the cheerleaders gives them the opportunity to experience high school like they should.”

Fujinaga claimed that without the entire school’s support, an event like Thursday’s would not be possible.

“We want to have total school involvement, from inclusive leadership and unified sports opportunities. We felt that when we made our proposal (for this year), the track meet would encompass all our goals.”

Peninsula’s yearly theme was “Choose to Include and Show Respect,” which was definitely reflected in this event. However, getting prepared for this event was not easy. The team planned for five months and dedicated countless hours, participating in weekly meetings and consistently communicating through email and text about it. However, once it was time for Thursday’s event, all of the stress seemed to wash away.

“The kids’ smiles are the main reason I wanted to bring this event to Peninsula,” Daley said. “I went as a guest last year (at North), and the smiles I saw made me want to do this. It makes all the planning, all the stress worthwhile.”

Stories like Peninsula’s definitely make us smile. Their dedication and support for those with special needs inspires so many. With this event, not only did they create more awareness for the special needs’ community, they were able to give students a day to remember and cherish forever.

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