Students host Chatham County Special Olympics

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“Watching them smile while I took their picture with their ribbon, that was just everything,” senior Bryn Aydt said.

Aydt, among other Physical Education Pupil Instructor (PEPI) students, helped the special education students prepare for the county-wide Special Olympics held at Northwood April 27.

The opening ceremony caught everyone’s attention, and as the Pledge of Allegiance was read by junior Tyrone Glover, the event started soon afterwards.

“I think that my students were really touched by the opening ceremony when we were all walking down the track. The people in the stands were clapping for them, and the people that were lining the track were clapping,” exceptional children’s teacher Carol Bartholf said. “They were being recognized for who they were, and I thought they all felt really, really good about that.”

As the day progressed, many athletic events took place on the field and track. The events included running or walking 25, 50 or 100 meters, tennis ball or softball throw and running or standing long jump.

“It sounded too overwhelming, but we’ve been practicing, and they’re surprising themselves about how much they can do and how good they are,” Bartholf said. “My favorite thing is just seeing what the students are capable of doing; they surprise themselves.”

After each event, the participants were awarded ribbons based on how they placed.

“When they got their ribbons, when they placed and stuff like that, they just had the biggest smiles on their faces,” senior PEPI student Rhys Lauffer said. “That was probably the best part.”

Many family members of the competitors noticed a difference in the behavior of their child or sibling after winning multiple ribbons.

“He was very happy and just kind of proud of himself, and I thought the whole ribbon thing was really cool,” said senior Isabelle Malinowski, older sister of freshman Piotr Malinowski. “He was carrying around the ribbons for the rest of the week.”

Apart from the competitive nature of the events and winning ribbons, event organizers say the students participating benefited in many other ways. The participants who congregated for the Special Olympics had the opportunity to socialize with participants from other schools and feel included in the community.

“We had adults out there that were like 40 years old participating and mixed in with kids that were in like third grade, and it was all the same; they were talking to each other,” Lauffer said. “It was just a way for them to get into the community and for them to do sports that they usually wouldn’t be able to do but they like to participate in. So it’s just really nice seeing all those kids smiling and stuff like that, having a good time.”

Bartholf also saw the community interaction as a great opportunity for her students.

“I would say that you celebrate your accomplishments and celebrate the accomplishments of others, and that it really is a celebration of the best that you can do and your best effort,” Bartholf said. “And you share that with your competitors; you’re happy for them when they do well, and they’re happy for you too.”

Above all, the participants took pleasure in the positive atmosphere of the Special Olympics.

“I honestly think that they enjoyed all of it; some of the people you could literally walk up and give them a high five, and it made their whole day,” Aydt said. “So just seeing the smiles on their faces while they were competing and feeling like they were included in all the events made it worth it.”

– By Carolyn Hammond & Hailey Neal