EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – When talking about East St. Louis, it’s easy to show Flyers’ pride and boast about their championship record on the gridiron. This year, for the first time, there is a new team to talk about. The coach of East St. Louis High School’s Unified Olympic Track and Field team focuses on inclusion and character building. Every student who wanted some playing time, got to shine during the team’s inaugural season. On the last day of school, they left feeling included and filled with pride.

“I had to push myself beyond my limits and out of my comfort zone to really compete with the Unified Olympics,” Damion Willaims, East St. Louis track athlete, said.

“It was an opportunity for them to gel as teenagers and be a part of organized competition, organized sports,” Maurice Scott, Unified Olympic Track and Field Team head coach, said.

These young men and women had a successful season. They represented southern Illinois as Region J champs and competed at Eastern Illinois University for the state championship against eight teams. It was the first time competing in unified sports for most of them.

“I’d like to thank them for really inspiring me to take a leap into becoming a leader,” Williams said.

They finished state runner-up, but despite their hurdles, behavioral, intellectual, or emotional, they were able to stay on track.

“That was the most satisfying thing for me as the head coach,” Scott said. “To see these young ladies and young men evolve and mature in a lot of different ways.”

They worked as a team this season while building bonds.

“They are fun to be around. I love them like they’re my brothers and sisters. I treat them with respect, and they treat me with respect,” Williams said.

Whether competing in shot put, long jump, 200m, or 4×100 relay, Scott said competition in sports has brought out the star in these athletes in all other aspects of life. 

“Getting involved with formal coaching which leads to life skills and mentoring. The result is the finished product,” Scott said.

They spent an hour and a half on the field together each day learning life skills.

“Being disciplined, being on time, relying on one another, and more importantly achieving goals and celebrating this accomplishment with your family,” Scott said.

They worked together while embracing one another’s differences.

Scott said it’s been important for his athletes to be a part of something, feel the love, and be seen.

“I see myself in all of them and they see themselves in me. With us becoming one, nothing can beat us,” Scott said.

He said most of his student-athletes will return next year and he hopes to continue building the program.