Muskego High School is going into its eighth year hosting Wisconsin’s largest regional Special Olympics Athletics meet. Together with the Special Olympics athletes, 2018 Wisconsin cross country coach of the year Rich Raney and the Muskego students are championing inclusion, empowerment, and impact.
The Muskego High School community is all about impact.
For starters, the Milwaukee-area high school has one of the best track & field programs in Wisconsin. At both the 2017 and 2018 Wisconsin state track & field championships, the Muskego boys took the top spot for the 4x200, racing with state record-threatening relay times. Meanwhile, the Muskego girls earned a pair of second-place finishes in the 4x800 and two-mile at the 2018 state championships.
The Muskego cross country team is also recognized as one of Wisconsin’s top programs. Rich Raney, Muskego’s coach for both girls cross country and track and field, has proven that he knows his way around a foot race: he was named Wisconsin Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2018.
Muskego High School athletes spend much of the year training their muscles, perfecting their technique, and competing at the highest level. However, every May, the spring track & field season blossoms into something even more.
"Year in, year out, 150 – sometimes almost 200 – high school teenagers who sometimes forget that the world doesn’t revolve around them, come together on a Saturday morning in the beginning of May and make the entire day about somebody else,” Raney said.
That Saturday morning lands on May 4 this year, when Muskego’s track and field team will host the annual Wisconsin Special Olympics Region 8 Athletics meet for the eighth year in a row.
Around 550 Special Olympics athletes participate in the Region 8 meet, making Muskego the host of the largest Special Olympics Athletics meet in the region.
With both the Muskego High School boys and girls track and field teams making up about 85% of the volunteers for the meet, Wisconsin Special Olympics track athletes convene at the Muskego campus for a day of running, jumping, and cheering.
“We’re all brothers and sisters in track and we all love doing the same thing,” Raney said. “It’s great to see that sort of bond.”
A Special Kind of Partnership
The Muskego High School track & field team has been involved with Wisconsin Special Olympics in some capacity for nearly a decade. But before his team started hosting the track meet, the competition took place at another high school 45 minutes away from Muskego, where Special Olympics paid a substantial fee to rent the facilities.
Looking for a way to get involved, Raney called up Wisconsin Special Olympics and asked if they would like 150 volunteers for their track and field meet. For the next two years, the Muskego track team drove to the other school on the shores of Lake Michigan and gave their time on the competition day.
But after the second year of volunteering for the meet (a year that was cold and rainy, no less), the coach knew that Wisconsin Special Olympics deserved more. He called up the organization again and told them that Muskego High School would host next year’s meet – at a significantly discounted rate.
Wary of drastic changes, the Wisconsin Special Olympics coordinator was skeptical. Raney convinced the coordinator to come down and check out Muskego’s facilities.
After only moments of being on campus, the coordinator was swept off her feet. She completely agreed: the Region 8 Athletics meet for Wisconsin Special Olympics would be held at Muskego High School.
Eight years later, Muskego is still the host of the Wisconsin Special Olympics track meet. And even though it used to cost Special Olympics about $7,000 per meet to rent out the facilities at another school, Muskego High School and its many volunteers offer their facilities for a nominal fee and their time and energy for free.
According to Jason Blank, the Senior Director of Sports for Special Olympics Wisconsin, the Special Olympics regional soccer tournament is also held at Muskego High at the same time as the track meet. On top of that, Blank says that Raney recruits other high school coaches to help with the event, and even the Assistant Superintendent of the Muskego-Norway School District speaks at the Opening Ceremonies.
“This is really the only local event that we have such a buy-in from the school and the community,” Blank said. “[Rich is] definitely the catalyst of how we got going with that.”
The tournament director explained that the Muskego students will come during the evening after their own track practice to help unload and set up for the next day’s events in addition to volunteering at the track meet itself.
We’re all brothers and sisters in track and we all love doing the same thing.- Coach Rich Raney
The Special Olympics meet “kinda begins to give these kids an idea that the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around them,” Coach Raney said. “It’s important to engage people.”
And Blank says that the Muskego students are standout volunteers.
“They do a great job being engaged for the full amount,” Blank said. “They come out engaged, they come out not afraid to interact with our athletes, and they’re great at encouraging and making it a positive experience.”
Raney added that the annual track meet has also encouraged some of the Muskego track athletes to become a part of the “Best Buddies” program, another non-profit organization that facilitates friendships and mentorships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
According to the coach, the entire Muskego community has been impacted by the near-decade-old tradition of hosting the Special Olympics track meet. Not only are parents of athletes signing up as volunteers, other students have joined the Muskego track team to get involved in the festivities.
For the last two years, both the boys and girls Muskego track teams have simultaneously raised money and pledged service time at the Special Olympics meet through a Snap! Raise track fundraiser.
Raising funds for the needs of a 150-plus person track team is no easy feat – from replacing hurdles, to paying for transportation to meets, to buying new uniforms for the quickly-growing team. Muskego High School is also working to bring pole vault to the program, which requires expensive poles and even more expensive landing systems.
Using online fundraising service Snap! Raise, since 2017 the boys and girls track teams have combined to raise over $55,000.
“Snap! Raise has been fantastic for us,” Raney said. “This whole platform with basically creating our own webpage and trying to do it more socially and digitally has really taken things to the next level.”
With plenty of time saved, the athletes of Muskego track and cross country can focus on other more important matters – like their community involvement.
At parent meetings, Raney makes a point of sharing how powerful the annual Special Olympics track meet is: “You think you’re proud of your kids now? Go watch them engage with a whole different group of athletes and you will be unbelievably, incredibly more proud than you ever were before.”
Blank noted that working with Muskego High School has “by far been the best kind of experience we’ve had with a school.” He says that the Muskego students’ proud dedication to hosting the Special Olympics on campus and welcoming their fellow athletes during the meet is a whole-hearted adoption of a spirit of fellowship that Blank hopes to encourage in other coaches and communities around the country.
For a decade and counting, Rich Raney and Muskego High School have been setting this example. The spirit of the Special Olympics radiates through the Muskego community, with students championing the values of inclusivity, empowerment, and impact.
The rest of Wisconsin – and track & field programs throughout the country – can’t help but take note.
For more information about Special Olympics, and how to get involved in your community, check out the Special Olympics website. If you’re in the Milwaukee area (or feel inspired to catch a flight to Wisconsin), you can find a link to volunteer for the Wisconsin Region 8 track meet at Muskego High School here.
Muskego Track & Field uses Snap! Raise to simplify its fundraising so students have more time and resources to get involved in their community. Elevate your program’s fundraising to give your athletes experiences that last a lifetime.Start a Fundraiser