EHS unified track team wins State Meet

Red Devils make history at inaugural event in Casper

By Don Cogger, Herald Sports Editor
Posted 5/29/24

A group of Evanston High School athletes made history earlier this month in Casper, winning the first-ever team title at the WHSAA State Unified Track and Field Championships.

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EHS unified track team wins State Meet

Red Devils make history at inaugural event in Casper

Flanked by coaches Ryan Berger (left) and Dave Deru, the EHS unified track and field team celebrate winning the first-ever state championship at the inaugural WHSAA State Unified Track and Field Championships, held at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper,  May 18.
Flanked by coaches Ryan Berger (left) and Dave Deru, the EHS unified track and field team celebrate winning the first-ever state championship at the inaugural WHSAA State Unified Track and Field Championships, held at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, May 18.

A group of Evanston High School athletes made history earlier this month in Casper, winning the first-ever team title at the WHSAA State Unified Track and Field Championships.

Held in conjunction with the Wyoming State Track and Field Championships, unified athletes from four different high schools competed in five events: The 100 meter dash, the shot put, the long jump, the 4x100 relay and the 400 meter dash.

The unified athletes and their unified partners were able to compete in front of a packed stadium of fans at Kelly Walsh High School on the final day of the Wyoming High School State Track and Field Championships, making for a day everyone involved won’t soon forget.

“It was an awesome experience, there’s no other word for it,” said Evanston Special Olympics and Unified coach Dave Deru. “Coach [Ryan] Berger and I have been trying to do this for several years now — it’s just never happened. Finally, the WHSAA and Special Olympics got together and decided to get it going. It’s happening on the East Coast, it’s happening at other places — let’s try it, and see how it works. This year, they did all the leg work in September and October, and proposed it to the teams. A few teams got signed up for it, and last week in Casper was the trial run.”

Evanston was represented by 13 athletes, many of whom competed in at least three of the five events.

“We [Evanston] have always had the biggest unified team in the state, so it was a no-brainer for us,” Deru explained. “It was like, ‘If you’re doing it, we’re going. We want to prove that we’re the best unified program in the state.’ We were excited, and it turned out to be a really awesome event.”

With this year’s event being the first of its kind, one would expect a few growing pains, as the logistics are worked out to ensure each athlete has his or her moment to shine. Deru said the response was overwhelmingly positive, which should lead to more teams competing in the future.

“We had four teams this year — Evanston, Greybull, Cody and a couple of athletes from Cheyenne East,” Deru said. “The response was just overwhelming — so much support from other teams, other coaches. The event coordinators — Trevor Wilson, the WHSAA President, and Jen Haines, the Special Olympics President — both said it was one of the coolest things they’d ever seen at the state track meet. The response was just very, very positive, and as good as it went, they think it’s just going to grow from here, with more and more teams and unified programs.”


Bringing home a State Championship

The EHS State Championship Unified Team consisted of 13 members: Breyer Faddis, Landen Tethal, RJ Sherwood, Hunter Brown, Shane Ruth, Homer Bodily, Evan Elliott, Jovi Quillinan, Caden Hiatt, Kiernynn Simmons, Evie Stahl, Carson Stahl and Jade Olson.

Competing in the 4x100 unified relay, the 100 meter dash and the long jump, unified athlete Jovie Quillinan said being able to share in the success of a state championship with her teammates and coaches was the highlight of her weekend.

“It was really cool to see the whole team win,” she said. “Everyone’s reaction, how excited they were — it was really neat. It was also really cool during the long jumping, when the whole entire crowd started clapping and cheering us on.”

Asked if competing in front of the capacity crowd was a little intimidating, Quillinan admitted to being nervous.

“I was, a little bit,” she said. “But it was really cool to see everyone so excited for us to be there. You could tell that the crowd was excited for us unified athletes to be there, and be a part of things.”

Unified athlete and EHS senior RJ Sherwood competed in the shot put and 100 meter dash, despite feeling a little under the weather coming into the event.

“It was really fun, honestly,” Sherwood said. “We tried our best, and I guess our best was very good, because we brought home state championships. For me the best part was the celebrations — the ride home on the bus was also really good, because I was pretty tired at that point.”

Showing true Red Devil grit and tenacity, Sherwood battled through to finish third in the 100 meters and fourth in the shot put.

“I was debating with myself on whether I should go,” Sherwood said. “I was like, ‘I’m sick, I’ve already done enough, I shouldn’t go [the State Special Olympics Games were the week before in Gillette]. But then I thought, ‘You know what? I’m feeling up to it.’ My body got better, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

For fellow senior Breyer Faddis — who competed in the 4x100 relay, the shot put and the 400 meters — the weekend was all about the food, though he did say the shot put was his favorite event.

“My favorite part was eating really good Chinese food, and real Italian pizza. At the games, everybody cheering me on as I was about to die in the 400 meters — that was really cool It was rough, though.”

“The 400 meters was really awesome,” Quillinan chimed in. “It was really competitive, and really fun race to watch.”

EHS seniors Caden and Cameron Hiatt have competed as unified partners for Evanston’s Special Olympians for the last couple of years, though Caden was the only Hiatt competing as a unified partner at this year’s Unified State Championships; Cameron had a prior commitment — placing fifth for the Red Devils track and field team in the pole vault.

“I’ve worked with the unified athletes for two years – it’s been really fun doing the Special Olympics with them,” Cameron said. “The environment is great, the coaches are great — it’s just a really fun environment, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it all.”

Asked the most gratifying part of being a unified partner, Hiatt said the answer is simple.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces when we do these competitions — to me, that’s the most gratifying part,” Hiatt said. “They get along very well, which is very cool to watch. You can tell they’re all friends, and they all support each other. It’s just very cool to see it all.”


A Hero’s Welcome

Waiting for Evanston High School’s newest state champions when they returned home was a true hero’s welcome: A parade of parents, students and community members, led through town by emergency response vehicles.

“The parade was really cool — there were so many people, that when you turned a corner, you couldn’t see the end of the line,” Quillinan said. “It was awesome to see all the support in the community.”

Sherwood agreed.

“I thought it was going to be like the Homecoming Parade,” he said. “But it was completely different. We had a fire truck following us, blowing their sirens. You’d look behind and see a line of cars, and think, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’”

“There were cars pulled over in different spots, and they would honk as we went by,” Deru added. “They let the kids hang out the bus windows. We got honks from truck drivers. Just looking back, seeing the kids hanging out the windows, big smiles on their faces — it was a pretty special moment, and a really cool experience for our state championship team.”

“The parade really was breathtaking,” Faddis said. “I’ve never seen the town this excited before.”

Deru took a moment to thank activities secretary Dauna Bruce, the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office, the Evanston Fire Department and the Evanston Police Department for putting the parade together.

“We appreciate all the community support for our program,” he said.

Reflecting on the success of the first State Unified Track and Field Championships, Deru said it’s proof positive that unified programs across the state are headed in the right direction.

“As coaches, it was a great experience,” Deru said. “It was a chance for us to solidify that we are doing things right with the unified program. We go to area games, state games for Special Olympics, and a lot of times, we have to run against ourselves, because there are no other teams. For us, to be able to do it on this stage, in front of so many people — it makes all of the hard work we’ve done in the past six or seven years worth it. It was total gratification to come away with a state championship, and to be able to showcase our unified program on that stage.”

As proud as Evanston’s unified coaches are of their athletes on the field, it’s how they conduct themselves off it that generates the most positive feedback from other communities.

“Our kids are great kids — they’re easy and fun to travel with,” Deru said. “When we go out to eat, we get compliments on how polite they are. We stayed at the Quality Inn, and the lady there told us they have a bunch of school groups that stay there throughout the year, and they have never had a team represent their town as well as our kids do. We did really well in the competitions, but to have people say those great things about your kids when they’re away from the field and track, that’s just as rewarding for us.”

With the school year wrapping up this week, the unified team will bid farewell to six seniors: RJ Sherwood, Jillian Young, Breyer Faddis, Landen Tethal and Caden and Cameron Hiatt. While the team will miss these six individuals, the future looks bright for the program.

“Our program continues to grow — we have 31 kids in the program right now, by far the most of any program in the state,” Deru said. “With the state track meet, hopefully it pushes it to where they might try it in swimming, or any other sanctioned sport by the WHSAA.”

Until next season, the athletes returning — as well as the ones who competed for the final time in Casper — can bask in the glow of their state championship, an accomplishment that can never be taken away.

“I told the kids at the banquet the other night, ‘You have the state championship — your names are on it,’” Deru said. “In 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now, you will always be the first unified state champions.’ That just gives me goosebumps, thinking about that and that legacy.”

Deru’s athletes couldn’t agree more.

“It’s really cool that we’re the first state champion Special Olympics team,” Quillinan said.

“We can contend with the big boys,” Sherwood added.

“We are the big boys in the Special Olympics,” Deru said.


WHSAA State Unified

Track and Field



Mixed 100 Meter Dash

1. Eve Stahl 15.03, 3. RJ Sherwood 16.44, 4. Kiernynn Simmons 16.48, 8. Jovi Quillinan 18.76, 10. Shane Rut 19.32, 11. Hunter Brown 19.66. 12. Homer Bodily 20.06, 14. Landen Tethal 26.62

Mixed 4x100 Relay

1, Evanston High School (Breyer Faddis, Evan Elliott, Jovi Quillinan,

Caden Hiatt) 1:00.34.

Mixed Long Jump

1. Caden Hiatt 16’7”, 3. Evan Elliott 11’10”, 5. Carson Stahl 9’5”,  6. Jade Olson 7’11.5”, . 7. Jovi Quillinan 7’5”, 9. Hunter Brown 6’3”, 11. Landen Tethal 3’1.5”

Mixed Shot Put

1. Kiernynn Simmons 33’5.5”, 4. RJ Sherwood 23’1”, 5. Eve Stahl 22’3.5”, 7. Homer Bodily 18’11.5”, 9. Shane Ruth 17’7”, 11. Breyer Faddis 15’11”

Mixed 400 Dash

2. Caden Hiatt 1:13.21, 4. Jade Olson 1:27.66, 5. Breyer Faddis 1:30.40, 6. Carson Stahl 1:30.44, 7. Evan Elliott 2:02.09