Level the playing field for all student athletes


To the Editor:

This letter is in support of the proposed new synthetic track and field project at the high school, through the lens of Unified Athletics. Relatively new to MVRHS, Unified Athletics is a Special Olympics–affiliated program which joins differently abled student athletes with their typically functioning peers through athletic competition. Due to their differing abilities, a number of our on-Island athletes as well as off-Island competitors face gross motor and mobility obstacles. These can make gross and locomotor movements such as walking, running, jumping, pivoting, shuffling, and even throwing, challenging. When they are performed on uneven and unstable surfaces, they can be dangerous, and risk unwarranted injury.

The new track will provide a safe and level surface, allowing all athletes, regardless of ability or skill level, to train and compete free of hazardous terrain. Beyond providing a proper surface, consistent with nearly every single competitors’, the substructure further provides an inherent level of cushioning currently unavailable with the provided substandard conditions. The new track and field structure will prove to be an asset to all athletes accessing its features — features which will further prove invaluable to the differently abled throughout our community.

Unified Athletics, Adapted Physical Education, and the Special Olympics exist to break down barriers and create environments where all are included; their function is to level the playing field. Synthetic turf can literally and easily meet that demand. In communities off-Island, differently abled athletes access these surfaces to move freely and appropriately, as their rights provide them. These surfaces do not exist on Martha’s Vineyard; is the same to be said for human rights?

If we have the ability to improve the lives of the people around us, it is the duty of responsible community members to do so. Making sure this project happens is not a frivolity, it is our responsibility, and a golden opportunity to do the right thing.

Synthetic turf athletic fields and playing surfaces provide consistent and divot-free fields, for the extent of their use, always. Divotted fields and uneven playing surfaces cause twists, tears, sprains, and hyperextensions to knees and ankles in all athletes, regardless of skill or ability. Typically functioning athletes, however, often have the added benefits of abilities like typical processing speed, which allows for the highly technical skills required for swift agility (to execute a play or more importantly, to avoid danger). However, differently abled athletes can experience differences in this area as well. Split-second decision making — like changing direction to avoid getting hurt — is highly complicated, and a challenging neuromuscular process. Successfully executing that process while also attempting to execute literally thousands of other neuromuscular requests can be even more of a challenge. When that process is completed at a delayed speed, athletes require all the support they can get. Providing athletes with inconsistent, unstable, and hazard-ridden track and fields is the opposite of that support, and, in fact, dangerous. The increased risk in this case further magnifies the severity of possible injuries far beyond any acceptable measure.

Every one of us loses our balance, trips, stumbles, and can fall. We no longer need to do that on unforgiving and hard-impacting surfaces. 

Synthetic turf has the added benefit of a shock-absorbing pad. When athletes do fall, this surface aids in softening the blow and absorbs some of the force of impact. I cannot stress enough how the new track and synthetic turf playing field, free of injury-risking divots and complete with a shock-absorbing pad, will positively impact Unified Athletics on Martha’s Vineyard.

A new synthetic turf field and track open the possibilities for inclusion throughout the Martha’s Vineyard community to new and previously unimagined possibilities. Who’s to say we couldn’t one day bring the Special Olympics Cape and Island Day Games to Martha’s Vineyard? The new synthetic track and field is a step toward making that, and many other dreams, become reality.

Thank you for your consideration. Thank you for making the safety of our student athletes your priority. Thank you for recognizing the right of mobility for all people. Especially thank you for understanding and considering the rights of differently abled student athletes and community members when casting your vote. Please vote “Yes” to phase one. Vote “Yes” for inclusion, and vote “Yes” for safe playing surfaces for all athletes.


Ryan P. Kent, M.Ed., CAPE
Unified Athletics