St. Helena track and field

St. Helena senior Dawson Landis runs during a home track meet earlier this season. Landis competed at the Coastal Mountain Conference Championship Meet two weekends ago thanks to the new Unified Athlete division. 

Under standard circumstances, St. Helena senior Dawson Landis would have ended his season on the track and field team before the Coastal Mountain Conference Championships two weekends ago.

Landis, who competed in the shot put, long jump and 200-meter dash for the Saints this spring, came up just short of hitting the qualifying marks for the conference meet and figured his season was over.

But thanks to a special exemption offered by the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school sports in the state, Landis was able to compete with his team one last time.

The exemption was possible under a new guideline that the CIF has adopted in partnership with the Special Olympics Northern California known as Unified Sports, which gives student-athletes with and without developmental or intellectual disabilities an opportunity to compete together.

Essentially, student-athletes with developmental or intellectual disabilities, known as Unified Sport Athletes, are paired with a Unified Peer Partner, defined by the CIF as “a general education student attending the same school as a Unified Sport Athlete, not receiving Special Education services.”

Thanks to this new program, Landis was partnered with junior Danny Jiminez and the duo competed together in the two events offered by the program: the 100 meters and long jump.

Landis recorded a jump of 10 feet, 7.25 inches and ran the 100 in a personal record of 15.74 seconds. He hadn’t run the 100 since last season, his first time running track, but had to cut his season short to get heart surgery midway through the year.

Landis was grateful for the opportunity to show his stuff this year.

“It was very cool,” Landis said. “I didn’t do the 100-yard dash at all this year, and at the same time Danny didn’t do the long jump at all. So, for the events we didn’t do, we both just kind of winged it.”

Landis said that he found out from St. Helena head coach Dave Pauls the week prior to CMCs that he’d get a chance to compete.

“I thought that was very nice and thoughtful for the division and the people who run the events to do that for me and Danny, because I know that Danny wasn’t 100-percent healthy because he also had an injury and I know that I wasn’t one of the top guys but I wanted to be there for my team,” he said. “We both did.”

He also thanked his teammates and coaches for all the help they offered him along his journey this year, his first full season with the track team.

“It meant a lot because I had a lot of people helping me, like Mr. Pauls was helping me, coach (Michael) Roche was helping me, coach Bob (Cantrall) was. Even one of my teammates, Ryan Searl, was helping me out,” Landis said. “So, I appreciate that a lot.”

After graduating next month, Landis plans on attending Napa Valley College and studying Sports Management.

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Sports Reporter

Gus Morris covers St. Helena and Calistoga sports for the Napa Valley Register. Before joining the Register in 2018, he covered collegiate sports for the student publication at the University of Oregon.