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Westmoreland County Special Olympics celebrates 50 years at competition

Tribune-Review - 5/4/2019

May 04-- May 4--Skyler Wood is an Olympian.

Wood, 10, a fourth-grader at RK Mellon Elementary School in Bolivar, flashed a big smile as he was presented with a gold medal for winning his heat in the 50-meter dash Saturday morning at Westmoreland County'sSpecial Olympics track and field event.

"I'm going to win another, Wood said.

Wood was one of the more than 180 athletes from throughout Westmoreland County who participated in the day-long event at Norwin High School. Athletes ran in track and threw softballs and jumped during various field events.

Saturday's competition marked the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics in Westmoreland. Before the first runners took off from the starting line, organizers honored the man who founded the initial event in 1969.

Milton Claney, 77, of Greensburg, was a physical education teacher at the county's Intermediate Unit when he read a newspaper article about the formation what would eventually become the Special Olympics. A year later, Claney organized the county's first competition for athletes with special needs.

"Right around this time in 1969, Westmoreland County Special Olympics held their first event ever at the University of Pittsburgh at Pitt Stadium in Oakland. We are extremely excited to celebrate this milestone today," said organizer Anthony Monstrola. "Milt started this program 50 years ago. And because of his time, dedication, patience and effort the program is where it is today."

Claney ran the local Special Olympics through 1989.

"It's totally different now," Claney said, noting the large number of participants and successes sustained over the last half century. "After not doing something for the last 30 years, you start worrying that people forgot about you."

Claney's inaugural event featured a group of about 60 athletes and just a handful of events.

On Saturday, about 200 volunteers assisted the athletes from Norwin, Belle Vernon, Franklin Regional, Hempfield, Yough, Kiski Area and Latrobe.

Special Olympics athletes now compete in a variety of events including the track and field competition conducted Saturday as well as winter sports, swimming and other gathers conducted throughout the year.

"It's important to give these kids opportunities for friendship and accomplishment," Monstrola said. "It's very important to participate and have a fair playing field."

For Kim Newman, watching her 8-year-old son, Dylan, compete in his three events, came with a variety of emotions.

"He's excited, happy and nervous," Newman said. "I think this program is wonderful for him."

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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