Making their point

Seated athletes vie for larger role in track and field

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor Boardman’s Micah Beckwith crosses the line during the boys seated 400-meter dash at Saturday’s state track and field meet in Columbus. Beckwith is one of several seated athletes from the Mahoning Valley.

COLUMBUS — Michelle Carroll-Piver was stunned to see what was happening right in front of her.

Her son, Cody, a freshman at Canfield High School, was wheeling around the track at a local meet. He needed to run a certain time qualify for the state meet before the regular season ended.

Before each event, you’ll hear an announcement introducing the athletes. Polite claps follow.

Cody is a seated athlete. He, teammate Jake Hostetler, Boardman’s Micah Beckwith and Pymatuning Valley’s Gabe Warsing are as well. They compete to qualify for the state meet, which was held last weekend in Columbus. Each seated athlete around the state must make a qualifying standard in the 100-, 400- and 800-meter dashes, along with the seated shot put.

Piver was making his way around the track, trying to better his time at the Mahoning County Meet. Then, an obstacle was in his way as hurdles were being set up for the next event. The person setting up the hurdles told Piver he was in the way, even though he was competing in an event, Carroll-Piver said.

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor Pymatuning Valley’s Gabe Warsing, left, heads toward the finish line during Saturday’s boys seated 400-meter dash at the state track and field meet in Columbus.

“Stop treating these kids like they’re some kind of novelty,” she said. “They’re not a novelty. Putting hurdles up because you don’t think their time means anything is ridiculous. I had a fit because it happened right in front of me.

“There’s an overall general lack of respect from schools that don’t have seated athletes. It’s much different when you go to Boardman because they have Micah. Micah is a serious athlete. They know all these kids work hard. You go to … some of the other schools around here, they don’t seem to understand that what our kids are doing is just as important as what the ‘typical’ kids are doing.”

MAKING POINTS

Non-seated athletes have to compete through districts and regionals, making it through the top four in each final. They might make it as an at-large qualifier.

This seated sport has grown from a co-ed event at the state meet back in 2013 to separate boys and girls events this season, having the most in Ohio High School Athletic Association history.

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor Canfield’s Cody Piver competes in the boys seated 100-meter dash at the state track and field meet in Columbus.

“If it keeps growing, they’ll have to split it up into divisions,” Pymatuning Valley coach Kevin Brown coach said. “It will keep growing, and that’s what they’ll eventually have to do.”

How can it grow around this side of the state, even around Ohio? Points.

“I think the next hurdle is allowing them to score for their team,” Boardman boys track and field coach John Phillips said. “Certain meets allow that. Most don’t. Here at state, they don’t. I think once that hurdle is overcome, people are going to understand the importance that this sport has for the seated athlete. I think that’s going to be the big barrier. When that happens, I think you’re going to start to see the importance that it has. It’s going to be treated like every other event in track.”

Include them. Beckwith, who has been an All-Ohioan at state the last two seasons, has been part of his team’s points in a few meets. He’d like to see his efforts go toward Boardman’s team performance.

“Make sure everybody is included in their teams and don’t separate anyone,” he said. “Put them in like everyone else.”

Then, maybe you’ll find athletes in schools around Ohio, maybe even ones who didn’t know an athlete was within them.

“Everybody is realizing they don’t have to be in their own shell,” said Warsing, a junior All-Ohioan and former state champion. “They don’t have to be scared from the disability because they see other people come out and they’re doing it. They realize they have some skill that was hidden from insecurities, starting to come out.”

How can this sport expand, especially around this part of the state?

Piver said there are so many commercials for regular sports, why not wheelchair sports? He and Micah have to spread the word about seated athletes.

“Let people know what opportunities are available for the kids,” Piver said. “I really think it could be bigger for our state. It just hasn’t because no one has done that yet.”

PUTTING IN THE HARD WORK

Piver, a freshman at Canfield, used to live in Joliet, Illinois. He was involved in wheelchair basketball there and currently competes in Para Taekwondo, which is an adaptation of the sport of Taekwondo for athletes with an impairment. Piver has cerebral palsy, along with seizures. The cerebral palsy affects his body movement and muscle coordination.

Piver’s right arm and right side of his body is weaker than the left, which is where he derives his power to move the racing wheelchair. He’s essentially powering through with one arm against other seated athletes with full use of two arms.

Being a seated athlete doesn’t mean getting in a racing chair with a elongated front and going out for show. There’s a lot that goes into competing. Piver-Carroll, who said she’s happy how Canfield and the state meet handled these events, said it would cost her around $3,000 to have a racing chair. The Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio helps provide Piver’s chair.

“The kids in general have to work so much harder than physical athletes have to work,” Piver-Carroll said. “If you think of us as abled-bodies people getting in a chair having to wheel instead of using our legs to get to track and have our feet shot down into a chair and have funny gloves on our hands, can’t even open our hands to do anything. It’s a huge challenge.”

Beckwith was slated to compete in all four events at state on Friday, the 100, 400 and 800 were to be semifinals. A three-and-a-half hour rain delay forced the 100 and 400 to be run timed finals on Saturday. The work leading up to the All-Ohio performances was worth it to Beckwith.

“It’s tough,” Phillips said. “It’s a lot compared to the other athletes. Very few athletes had to do as much this weekend as these seated athletes had. Hopefully the folks here watching see the work they’re putting in. I see it every day at practice. He comes to practice, whether it’s the throws or on the track. He does his work like everybody else. He’s in the weight room like everybody else. He does what he has to do to be here, to be an All-Ohioan for the second straight year.”

It’s not about the polite applause or the feel-good factor. It’s about athletes being athletes.

“My kid is not some Hallmark movie or some means to entertain others or make them feel good about themselves,” Carroll-Piver said in an e-mail.

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