by Michael Smith
Grain Valley sophomore Jason Wilson was thrilled.
Erik Stone, a health teacher and head varsity coach for the boys track and field team, proposed an idea to Wilson.
He wanted the sophomore to be the first para athlete to ever compete for the Eagles. After focusing on basketball during his freshman season, he’s now giving track and field a shot.
“He saw something in me and wanted me to come out,” Wilson said of Stone. “Last year, I stuck with basketball. This year I got some fire in me to be here.”
Added Stone: “I had him in health class last year and got to know him a little bit. I knew he was an athlete because he plays wheelchair basketball. He helped manage the football team, too. I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come out and do track?’
“He’s a strong kid and he’s a good athlete. He didn’t know if he would have time with basketball, but Coach (David) Allie and Coach (Flip) Courter got him to come out and throw.”
Wilson was born with spinal bifida, which is a birth defect when the spine and the spinal cord do not form properly. Because of that, Wilson has had to use a wheelchair to get around.
That hasn’t stopped him from participating in sports. He played wheelchair basketball for a while and was a part of the Kansas City Kings, a team that finished in second place in the Division II National Tournament.
The season ended last week, which has now allowed Wilson to fully concentrate on track and field. Last Friday, Wilson competed in his first full track meet at the Leavenworth Invitational in Kansas.
He participated in the javelin and shot put events and competed alone in the 100-meter wheelchair race. Wilson earned a personal record in the javelin, with a throw of 39 feet, 5 inches.
The sophomore being able to compete was made possible by a non-profit organization called the Disabled Athletes Sports Association. According to their website, it “supports athlete empowerment by creating an environment that maximizes our athlete’s physical abilities to experience the benefits and positive impact of living an active lifestyle.”
DASA donated a track chair that is used for para athletes to compete in events such as the 100-meter wheelchair race. During track practice, Wilson makes sure he gets some reps in chair.
“He got really excited about it, especially when he saw his racing chair and he started to get a feel of it,” Stone said of Wilson getting started with the track team. “He got used to it and how it operates and how it works.”
During the javelin and shot put events, he uses a chair that was built by a shop class at Grain Valley High School led by teacher Everett Sheppard. The class followed DASA guidelines when building the chair.
The students built the chair out of three-quarter inch conduit and built a 4x3-foot base for it to sit on that was made out of solid oak. The chair includes the base, a pole that is attached that Wilson can use to help him build momentum forward a throw and straps that help keep the chair from moving and are attached to the base.
“One guy did the welding, one guy cut the medal, a couple other guys built the base and other guys were painting it,” Sheppard said. “The class really enjoyed this project.”
When throwing a javelin or a shot put the technique is similar to what an able-bodied competitor uses. In the javelin event, Wilson grabs the pole with his right hand, he leans back then throws it with his left hand.
In these events, he uses equipment that is specifically made for para competitors. A javelin for girls competitors weights 600 grams. One for a boy athlete is 800 grams. For Wilson, the javelin is 500 grams.
In the other throwing event, he throws a 2-kilogram that is similar to the size of a baseball.
With the chair, he can lean back far and can be more consistent with his throws,” said Courter, who's the team’s javelin coach. “The finishing position for him is the same as everybody else. And that is get the chest and shoulders facing forward and get the javelin over the shoulder out in front. I have had other coaches comment on how smooth of a release that he has.”
“He has a couple of things we are working on. He was able to throw it 10 to 15 feet when he first started, and now he’s throwing it 30-something feet. He threw it in practice the other day 33 feet.”
In the Kansas City area, Stone said the closest para athlete Wilson could compete against attends Lafayette County High School. Stone and the Eagles tried to get the two to face off in the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational to start the season, but there were some scheduling conflicts with Wilson’s basketball team.
Stone and Wilson said they hope to have him compete against another wheelchair-bound athlete during the regular season. For the most part, Wilson will be going against able-bodied competitors. He will have his own division in some meets, however, so he will still have chances to earn medals.
However, during the Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships, Wilson will have other para athletes he can compete against for state medals. It’s something that he is champing at the bit to be a part of in May.
“Before the season he said, ‘Coach, I am so excited. I am going to make history,’” Stone said
Added Wilson: “I am really excited. I want to make it to state and get a medal.”
Jason Wilson is Grain Valley's first para athlete for track and field. He will complete in the 100-meter wheelchair race, the javelin and shot put. Photo credit: Michael Smith