The outdoor track at Perkins School for the Blind, normally a sea of blue uniforms, was flooded with red, yellow and white singlets this weekend as students representing five schools for the blind competed in the 69th Annual Eastern Athletic Association of the Blind Track Meet.
Sixteen Perkins athletes took part in the meet, which is one of the region’s largest athletic events for high school athletes who are blind or visually impaired. The teams were joined by two Boston sports icons – Hall of Fame Red Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley and former Celtics forward Leon Powe – who volunteered their talents for the afternoon, timing races and shouting encouragement.
“Coming out here and seeing these kids have a chance to compete and be physical, it’s a good thing,” said Eckersley, who was joined by his wife, Jennifer. “To watch the excitement of these kids being involved in this kind of event is amazing.”
Students, coaches and family members lined the straightaway as sprinters raced in the 50- and 75-yard dash. Some runners held a waist-high guide wire as they sprinted towards the finish line, while others ran in regular lanes or with a sighted guide. Everyone received support in the form of cheers from the crowd or well-wishes from fellow competitors.
“I really like the sportsmanship feel,” said Michael Harris, a student at the New York Institute for Special Education. “One team is doing a race and the other team is not even competing and they’re still cheering on the other competitors.”
Former Olympic runner Marla Runyan, a teacher at Perkins, staffed the loudspeaker for the day, announcing races and heat numbers as athletes milled around the starting line. In addition to sprints and distance races, students competed in seven field events, including the softball throw and the long jump.
“In many ways this is a typical track meet,” said Perkins Athletics Coordinator Tracey Polimeno. “What makes it special is the opportunity students have to meet kids from other schools and compete on a larger stage.”
Perkins sprinter Brendan Flynn agreed. “Everybody on my team has to be enjoying this event,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
At the end of the day, the New York Institute for Special Education took home the first-place title for its boys and girls teams. Perkins boys placed third in the competition and captured the Terri Werner Memorial Spirit Award. Perkins girls placed fifth overall.