Level the playing field 


To the Editor:

This statement was read at a recent Oak Bluffs planning board meeting regarding the turf field project at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

My name is Ryan Kent, and I am the adapted physical education teacher, as well as a unified athletics coach, at the high school. 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 often face gross motor and mobility obstacles. These obstacles can make locomotor movements such as walking, running, jumping, pivoting, shuffling, and even throwing a challenge. When these movements are performed on uneven, unstable, and unsafe surfaces, they become dangerous, and significantly increase the risk of unwarranted injury.

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 quite literally and easily fulfill that charge.

The currently proposed new track will provide a safe and level surface, allowing all athletes, regardless of ability or skill, to train and compete free of the current hazardous terrain. Beyond providing a proper surface, consistent with that of every single school we compete with, the substructure further provides a level of cushioning which is unavailable with the current substandard conditions.

The new track and field structure will prove to be an asset to all athletes and spectators accessing its features, features which will further prove invaluable to our differently abled community members.

In communities off-Island, differently abled athletes access these surfaces freely, as their rights provide them through the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well the basic right to move freely wherever one should choose.

These surfaces and facilities do not exist on Martha’s Vineyard. I wonder, Is the same to be said for basic human rights and moral responsibility?

I firmly believe that 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. Contrarily, divotted fields and uneven playing surfaces can cause twists, tears, breaks, sprains, and hyperextensions to knees and ankles in all athletes, regardless of motor skill or well-versed footwork. However, typically functioning athletes also have the added benefits of abilities like typical processing speed, which allows for the highly technical skills required for swift agility. On the other hand, differently abled athletes can experience differences in this area as well, making split-second changes in direction (required because of a recognized threat, like a divot) challenging and, unfortunately, unlikely. The increased risk in this case further magnifies the severity of possible injuries far beyond any type

of acceptable measure.

Every one one of us loses our balance, trips, stumbles, and can fall. There are many well-funded and recognized supports provided by this Islandwide community that are in place for when those blocks appear. It is long past the time that we recognize we no longer need to do that on unforgiving and hard-impacting athletic surfaces. It is time we accept and address the physical safety needs of our community.

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 opens the possibilities for inclusion throughout the Martha’s Vineyard community to new and previously unimagined opportunities. Who’s to say we couldn’t one day bring the Regional Special Olympics Day Games to our very special island?

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

Ryan Kent