a group of young men standing next to each other
The Marathon unified soccer team shows off well-earned gold medals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. From left: coach Cathy Warner, Mykah Nelson, Sebastian Gonzalez, Ashley Strama, Mikayla Schubert, Lucian Burns, Billy Roberts, Alex Chavala, Cindy Augustin, Tony Barrera. CONTRIBUTED

The Marathon unified soccer team, a group bound together by their love for the game, did not come home empty-handed after leaving the Special Olympics Summer Games in Orlando. This three-day event was a platform for various sports, including bocce, basketball, cycling and soccer. The team left Monroe County on May 16, alongside special education athletes from Key West and Key Largo. The group made the journey in two tour buses, escorted by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol. 

Founded by MHS teachers David Justin Hare and Cathy Warner, the Marathon unified soccer team is composed of 10 athletes ranging from 11 to 15 years old. The team made the journey to the esteemed competition after winning an at-large bid at the regional tournament held at IMG Academy in Bradenton in April. 

The soccer showdown kicked off on May 17 at noon against the Clay Chiefs. Marathon claimed its first victory 2-1, with both goals scored by partner athlete Ashley Strama and assisted by Cindy Augustin. After the win on Friday, the team made it straight to the championship match to compete for the gold medal. 

The following day brought a showdown with the Brevard Juniors for the championship. Brevard Junior coaches proposed to prohibit partner athletes, who accompany their special needs counterparts on the team, take shots on goals for the final game, and Hare and Warner agreed. 

The competition was fierce, with multiple saves preserving a shutout for Marathon. After a hard-fought battle from both sides, it was Marathon’s very own Augustin who emerged as the hero, scoring the lone goal of the game. With the final score of 1-0, Marathon’s unified soccer team claimed the gold. 

Throughout the season, Augustin has been the Marathon unified soccer team’s most prolific scorer, accounting for the vast majority of the team’s goals. Her ability to turn opportunities into points has earned her praise from Hare, who refers to her as the team’s “offensive star.”

This year, Marathon High School and its unified soccer team achieved unified championship school status for the first time. Although they were placed in the fourth division, typically reserved for newcomers, in the state-level competition, Hare said he expects next year to bring a higher division placement, allowing for new competitive opportunities. 

The unified soccer team has been a game-changer for special education players, their coaches told the Weekly. Starting in February, Warner was instrumental in transforming students who barely knew the basics of soccer. “For them to go from zero soccer knowledge to where I was able to get them was awesome,” she said. Now, they are not just playing; they are communicating on the field and mastering passes. 

Hare noted remarkable growth in the team’s social skills. “The athletes are doing new things, interacting in different ways, learning new routines and just doing great,” he said. 

The effects of the unified soccer team, however, extend far beyond the field. The MHS community has rallied behind them, with students showing support and encouragement. 

“It’s had an unbelievably positive impact on the culture of the school,” said Hare. “It will be really awesome moving forward to see the interaction, acceptance and inclusion at our school.”

“Some of these kids who are in this enclosed environment are getting out now and part of the school community,” said Warner. “Everybody knew who they were by the end of the school year, which was really special.”

Trinity Jacox
Though Hurricane Ivan kept Trinity Jacox from being born in the Keys, it couldn't keep her away for long. Growing up in Marathon, she cherished every moment of island life, amassing over 400 community service hours, serving as class president at Marathon High School and earning her associate's degree from the College of the Florida Keys. Now, as an English Editing, Writing, and Media major at Florida State University, she's excited to bring her love for writing back home through her summer internship with the Keys Weekly.