East Noble's 2019 Unified track

East Noble High School's 2019 Unified track and field team is pictured. The team is a finalist for the Varsity Brands Spirit of Sportmanship award.

KENDALLVILLE — East Noble High School is a finalist for two national awards from Varsity Brands, which recognizes school spirit and its positive impact on students.

High school principal Kathy Longenbaugh and East Noble Unified Track and Field are nominated in different categories for the nationwide program hosted by Varsity Brands.

Varsity Brands represents BSN Sports, Varsity Spirit and Herff Jones, which sells class rings, yearbooks, graduation products and other items to students.

Varsity Brands will award $100,000 across 25 categories, including $3,000 to each category winner and a $25,000 grand prize to the nation’s most-spirited high school.

The awards ceremony will take place on May 9 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

Longenbaugh, who has led the high school for the last four years, is one of the finalists for the Principal Spirit Award.

Teacher Matthew Rickey sent in the nomination, highlighting several programs Longenbaugh has introduced at the high school for students including fall festival donuts and pumpkin carving; random acts of kindness candy; band-led school walk arounds for state sports athletes and groups; pep sessions with staff vs. students events; free Christmas cookies and end-of-the-year cook out.

For teachers, Longenbaugh brought several other staff events including professional development days, Christmas breakfast, Waffle Wednesdays, teacher appreciation week, a chili cook off, Souper Bowl luncheon and last-day softball game.

“I have enjoyed many conversations with Kathy, and I am always impressed by her emotional, passionate commitment to this school, that is the students and staff who enter the doors of the building every day. She knows that many students will spend as much more time here in school than they do at home. As a result, she has made (and is making) East Noble a second home/haven for her students,” Rickey wrote in his nomination.

“I wonder how much of Kathy’s work goes unnoticed because the activities/events she has created have seamlessly become a part of the East Noble High School fabric. What many students might not realize is this is a special school, and their principal Kathy Longenbaugh is in no small way responsible for the positive environment we all enjoy,” he wrote.

Other finalists include principals from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Orlando, Florida; Marietta, Georgia; Lexington, South Carolina; and Lancaster, Ohio.

Also nominated for the Spirit of Sportmanship Award was East Noble’s Unified track and field team.

Since being introduced in 2014, East Noble has been a major participant in Unified programs, which allow students with and without intellectual disabilities to participate in sports and activities together as one.

“Whatever the technical terms may be for each, the greatest thing is that they’re all teammates,” adaptive physical education teacher Ryan Pepple wrote in his nominating letter. “They learn, grow as young adults, socialize, improve as competitors, but most importantly they do it together. The life lessons this team provides to each individual does have a lasting impact and makes them, our community and beyond a better place.”

Unified athletes not only take part in different events including long jump, shot put and running events, but they also assist and encourage other athletes participating.

“I believe sportsmanship is not one act of kindness. Sportsmanship is a way of life. Encouragement is needed no matter the skill level and no matter the setting. My Spirit of Sportsmanship story is difficult to sum up with one particular story because our kids demonstrate sportsmanship every day whether it be on the track, in the classroom, in the hallways, eating lunch in the cafeteria or throughout the community. They set an example that is contagious,” Pepple wrote.

Other finalists for the award include Ardrey Kell High School, Charlotte, North Carolina; Bishop Gorman Catholic School, Tyler, Texas; Christian Academy School, Sidney, Ohio; Costa Mesa High School, Costa Mesa, California; Countryside High School, Clearwater, Florida; Eden Prairie High School, Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville, Tennessee; Glencoe High School, Glencoe, Alabama; and White Oak High School, Jacksonville, North Carolina.

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