Special Olympics a win for the community
Sanford Herald - 5/4/2019
May 04-- May 4--A middle-school girl in leg braces twisted around to toss a Frisbee across the football field at Lee County High School on Friday. About a dozen yards away, a boy with Down syndrome sprinted down the track in a 50-meter dash.
The two athletes were participating in the Lee County Special Olympics, an annual contest for children with physical or cognitive disabilities. The event brought hundreds of children and volunteers to the school's stadium to compete in races, long jump and Frisbee and softball throws.
The Special Olympics give children with disabilities the opportunity to be included in competitions they're not normally able to take part in, said Jennifer Allen, principal of the Floyd L. Knight Children's Center.
"The day is all about them and to put them in the spotlight, because all too often, they're not in the spotlight," she said. "Just having that positive interaction with others, and since they can't see that team competitiveness, they get a taste of it during the day."
The students look forward to the event every year, Allen said, practicing at schools from across the county and anticipating their time to shine in the physical competitions.
Caleb Cross, a 19-year-old Floyd L. Knight student, said one of his favorite things about the day was getting to throw the softball, which he lobbed 31 feet.
"My day is going really, really good, and I'm excited because I was really wanting to come to the Special Olympics," he said.
Caleb is blind and speaks with a loud
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voice that sometimes breaks into higher pitches. He's energetic and eager to talk to people, though. His voice can sound like Olaf from the movie "Frozen," he said, showing off his impression of the character by reciting a few lines from the film.
"I love people ... because I always seem to make them happy," Caleb said.
Other students are less verbal, but their smiles speak for them. Kaylee Miskovsky, a 10-year old with autism, broke into laughter as Denise Rogers, a teaching assistant, sang and played with her during the event.
"She likes getting out of the classroom. She's an active child," Rogers said. "Sitting is not her thing, she likes to run and jump and dance and loves music."
Kaylee and Rogers ran from event to event to cheer others on, even when it wasn't Kaylee's turn to compete. Kaylee also enjoyed the performance by the Lee County High School marching band, Rogers said, and sang along to songs like Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" blaring from the stadium's speakers.
"It's fun to see them be able to do (these things) like every other kid," Rogers said. "So they might communicate differently and they might move differently, but they're still children. They're out here, they're excited about having ribbons and all that good stuff."
This year, student volunteers from the high school paired up with some of the participants, cheering their new friends on in the events, Allen said. The social acceptance and positive feedback students with disabilities got from others their age was invaluable, Allen said.
"I think it's a win-win for both the student athletes and the volunteers," she said. "It also allows the students who do not have a disability to understand that 'Everybody's not like me,' and just having that social awareness that everybody's different."
People in colorful T-shirts crowded the field, making it a place of joy. Conversation flowed as participants tossed beach balls to each other, played cornhole and danced to the "Electric Slide." Excited shouts and laughter could often be heard from the crowd.
"This is a very emotional day for me, it's one of my favorite days," Allen said. "Just being able to see that smile and that enthusiasm and everything from the student athletes, that's what makes this day special."
Reach Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup at 919-718-1217.
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