Christopher Thompsen had just finished sprinting down the runway and vaulting himself into the sandy pit at Riverhead High School when track coach Maria Dounelis congratulated him on his long jump.
“We got to sign you up,” Dounelis told Thompsen, a Riverhead special education student.
“Sign me up for what?” Thompsen replied.
“For the track team!” Dounelis said.
For one afternoon under sunny skies, athletes competed in track and field not for times or distances or medals, but for pure joy.
Riverhead hosted its first-ever Athletics for the Challenged track meet last Thursday, where students from eight schools came together to compete in four different individual events.
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There was the long jump, the 55-meter dash, the shot put — where they could throw either a real shot or a softball —and the hurdles, which were about a foot high.
“This is the best event out here,” Longwood athletic director Kevin McCarthy told the Rocky Point team as they walked to the shot put area.
The Section XI-sponsored sports program allows the students a chance to compete in different sports every month. The participating schools rotate hosting the event, which has included sports like basketball, softball and cross country.
Riverhead was scheduled to host the event for the first time last spring but it got rained out.
Riverhead special education teachers Tim Page and Jill Zappulla coach the team, which includes about 15 Riverhead students.
Many of the students donned blue Riverhead T-shirts during the track meet.
The teams each rotated through the different individual events before running relays at the end.
“These events allow our students to see that athletes come with different abilities,” Page said. “Trying your best is a team’s strength.”
Before the competitions the students practice their sport as part of their physical education in school.
Cadets from the NJROTC assisted in running the event. Other schools that participated were Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point, Mattituck, Brentwood, Bay Shore, Longwood, Bellport and Ward Melville.