Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School heads to the finish line as his father Jon Schomaker cheers him on during the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area on Saturday, October 26, 2019. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

CUMBERLAND — After a month of fighting to race in his wheelchair at the Class B South regional cross country meet, Leavitt’s Jonathan Schomaker was finally able to compete alongside his teammates Saturday at Twin Brook Recreation Area.

Schomaker lined up on the far right of the starting line, with every other B South boys runner to his left, waiting for the race to start. Schomaker finished his modified 1.8-mile course in 37 minutes, 21.49 seconds, a few seconds before the final runners who ran the 5-kilometer course. 

For Schomaker, who has cerebellar hypoplasia, was not allowed to participate in last season’s postseason races. Last month, the Maine Principals’ Association denied Leavitt Area High School’s appeal of that ruling. The school and the Schomakers continued to dispute the decision, and after more than three weeks of discussion the MPA agreed to allow Schomaker to compete with his teammates and the other runners and be scored in a separate wheelchair division.

For Schomaker, fighting to race in the postseason meet was not only about him, but also about future wheelchair athletes.

“As my parents would strongly say, ‘I’m the key to opening the doors for other wheelchair racers,’” Schomaker said. “It’s not just for me, it’s not just for my team, but it’s for everybody.”

Before the race, Leavitt coach Neal Rioux had some quick advice for his sophomore athlete. 

“‘Go set a record and break it again next week,’” Rioux said. “That’s all he needed.”

Schomaker’s time sets the wheelchair division record for the state of Maine, and he’ll have a chance to break it next week at the Class B state championships, also at Twin Brook. 

“It’s a dream fulfilled,” Rioux said. “It’s always been about him. I don’t know any kid who has worked as hard and is more deserving of being in the race than him. To participate is everything.”

The race starts with an uphill stretch, which Jonathan and his father, Jon, were well aware of. The hill set them back, but Schomaker picked up speed on the downhills and in the woods. 

“I was excited,” Jonathan Schomaker said. “I was not excited for the uphill start, but excited for the rest of the course, because if you were in the woods you would see me flying. I went water skiing.”

A major point of discussion the past couple of weeks between Rioux and meet director Mike Griffin was the intersection of Schomaker’s course and the 5K course on which the other runners would be competing. 

To help the races continue smoothly, Griffin asked John Chapin, a former long-time track coach at South Portland, to be a marshal on the course and help the Schomakers through the intersection. 

Schomaker had to wait only five seconds, according to the stopwatch Chapin kept, at the intersection while a couple of runners ran by, and then Schomaker made his way into the woods again with no problem.

“I liked the fairness of having the stopwatch and taking time off of his time at the stop. I feel like everyone won,” Rioux said. “This is a great format, not just for him but for future racers. I think it’s really clear now that this is something we can do.”

Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School competes in the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area on Saturday, October 26, 2019. Following him is his father Jon Schomaker. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Griffin agreed, saying Schomaker’s race went smoothly and hopes to have more in the future.

“The flow of traffic we really didn’t have to stop except for that brief moment,” Griffin said. “It was just them all of a sudden turning and them not knowing he was there, which would happen if it was just a single runner on the course, people aren’t going to see them.”

Griffin said that next week he will place cones closer to the intersection to alert runners and spectators alike that the junction is coming up. Many spectators crossed in front of Schomaker and the runners, seemingly unaware of the intersection of the two courses.

Schomaker came down the final stretch to a roaring applause.

Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School heads to the finish line as his father Jon Schomaker cheers him on during the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Rioux said that Schomaker’s time, which was in the 37-minute range, was about two minutes faster than the time they had estimated for him.

Many athletes and parents  found Schomaker and congratulated him after the race and continued to do so until the start of the award ceremony. 

Schomaker was the first in what many hope to be a long line of future wheelchair athletes participating in cross country.

“It’s kind of a big relief to be done with the process and have everything in place as it should be,” Jonathan’s father, Jon, said. “I’m happy that we got it done. I think through the process establishing the wheelchair division became more important than it was at the beginning.

“At the beginning it was simple, he just wants to race so let him race. As we got through the whole process and the idea of having the wheelchair division in there, obviously that made sense. If we are going to have this happen then there needs to be a way to account for the wheelchair athletes being there.”

Schomaker will race again next Saturday at the Class B state meet alongside the other runners that have qualified. The importance of Saturday’s race at regionals couldn’t be overstated. 

“It was important because, a) I want to race, and b) I want to open the doors for other wheelchair athletes, and c) my team is like my family,” Schomaker said.

Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School talks with the media following his race in the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School competes in the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland on Saturday, October 26, 2019. Following him is his father Jon Schomaker. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo


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