From a stage in Kansas City, Missouri, football fanatics waited with anticipation as Robert Short, a South Mecklenburg High School sophomore from Charlotte, North Carolina, read the draft pick aloud. His announcement resounded in homes across the nation; in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, tight end Josh Whyle was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. The invitation to present an NFL Draft pick is hard to come by. Thanks to South Mecklenburg High School’s Unified track team, that invitation landed in Robert’s hands.
Offered through Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC), Unified track is an interscholastic athletics program that joins students with and without disabilities on a track and field team. The students train and compete on the same team together, promoting social and athletic inclusion. In the 2022-23 season, 28 teams from eight counties competed in the program. Robert’s first year on the roster for Unified track, his athletic momentum had an early start.
“In elementary and middle school, he participated in the Special Olympics programs that were offered through the school,” explained Robert’s mother, Laura Short. “He has done soccer, basketball and bocce, all through the school system.”
South Mecklenburg High School is part of the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® strategy, which intentionally promotes meaningful social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities to create accepting school environments. This year, a group of students went to great lengths to make one of their Unified track teammates feel included. Going to the greatest length, they called Dream on 3.
Dream On 3, a Charlotte-based nonprofit organization, seeks to make sports dreams come true for children with chronic illnesses, intellectual and developmental disabilities or life-threatening conditions. The South Mecklenburg High School students expressed their intent to sponsor a sports dream package for one of their teammates. Robert was chosen as the recipient.
“I went to the NFL Draft,” said Robert. “In a limousine.”
Drafted by his own teammates, Robert was picked to attend the 2023 NFL Draft Experience with his twin brother, Michael. Backstage, the brothers received the draft card and were escorted onstage to present Whyle’s move to the Tennessee Titans. As sports enthusiasts, Robert and Michael lived a moment that fellow sports enthusiasts can only fantasize about.
The time they share is often spent on a field. Robert serves as the team manager for Michael’s travel baseball team as well as South Mecklenburg High School’s baseball team. For twins with common sports interests, they are respectful of each other’s individuality.
“I do my own things with my friends and he has his own friends,” said Robert.
Alongside his friends, Robert is a regular at his Taekwondo studio, where he has earned his first-degree black belt. Sometimes taking up to two classes daily, he is working toward a second-degree black belt. Off the mat, Robert’s focus is on his singing aspirations. One day, “I’m going to be on ‘American Idol.’” If his past accomplishments are any indication of what is to come, he is likely to be picked for that too.
Heading into his junior year, Robert will return to training with his Unified track teammates. On a team where inclusion is the motivation, they continue to pick one another every day.