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Giving it their all at Special Olympics

Eagle-Tribune - 5/23/2019

May 23-- May 23--LAWRENCE -- It was all fun and games at Veterans Memorial Stadium Wednesday morning, during the state's second largest Special Olympics School Day Games gathering.

The celebration of inclusion and sport is a growing Merrimack Valley tradition, with 636 athletes from 23 schools enjoying moments -- running, jumping, playing -- in the spotlight Wednesday.

From the center of the field, event organizer and Lawrence High English teacher Rich Gorham took in the echoing laughs and cheers around him.

"Phenomenal," he said of the roughly 100 new kids participating this year. "My goal is to have 1,000 athletes here. And I think we can do it."

The annual growth, he said, has come from elementary, middle and high school administrators reaching out and asking to participate.

One of them, Haverhill TEACH (Therapeutic Education Assessment Center of Haverhill) Principal Lyn Snow, accompanied 42 students in the dance tent.

"We're the biggest group here besides Lawrence," she said. "And it's our first time. The kids are so excited. We all are."

After bopping to music with their classmates and new friends -- from Lowell, Tewksbury and Lawrence -- the Haverhill kids made their way to different events around the track. They took on obstacle courses, played soccer and football, and raced down a leg of the track.

Five year participant Timothy Vo, an 18-year-old Lawrence senior, said he looks forward to cheering on his friends at the event every year.

"Running mostly," he said of his favorite part.

His classmate Yuneiri Santana, 16, said the field day events are also an opportunity to reunite with former teachers.

"I've been coming to play since I was in middle school," she said. "I get to see my teachers today."

The Special Olympics organization teams up with hundreds of local volunteers, law enforcement, New Balance, and the Boston Bruins Foundation to make the day inclusive and fun.

"We host about 40 of these throughout the end of the school year," said Stephanie Esposito, a director of development in charge of organizing the law enforcement torch run. "The kids love it everywhere we go."

From the Berkshires to Cape Cod, Lawrence garners the second largest crowd, she said.

Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque took pride in his officers' involvement.

"The Lawrence Police Department is thrilled to partner each year with the sponsors, educators, and countless volunteers that make the Special Olympics possible," he said. "This event is second to none. It is heartwarming to see the smiles and enthusiasm of the athletes participating in the all the events throughout the day."

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(c)2019 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

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