Special Olympians test their skills: More than 525 compete in the annual event
Pocono Record - 5/10/2018
May 10--The high school band played in the middle of East Stroudsburg High School South's athletic fields for the hundreds in the audience in an event that highlighted our similarities, not differences, as the school presented the annual Special Olympics competition.
More than 525 athletes joined hundreds of parents, teachers and student volunteers gathered together to compete in and celebrate the fourth annual Special Olympics hosted at the school.
The program has been ongoing for almost 45 years.
Ernst Roundtree, who has competed in the Special Olympics for 18 years, was the guest of honor.
"It taught me to be independent and courageous," he said.
Athletes from each Monroe County school district and two Northampton County districts attended the event, which was sponsored by Northampton County Intermediate Unit 20.
The Special Olympics is a kindergarten to 12th-grade program where athletes compete in several special track-and-field events, including wheelchair races, sprints, softball throws, shot putting and for the artistically inclined, face painting.
The athletes train as if it's the real Olympics. Coaches and organizers, too.
Organizer Rick Agratto, a retired special education director from Bethlehem, has been organizing this event for 40 years.
"This is so great for the community to showcase their skill levels," he said. "These kids are here to compete."
Andrew Delina, a sophomore from East Stroudsburg School District North said he was there to volunteer to help his friend Randy Reed, one of the athletes.
"It's very rewarding to see peoples' smiles when they win," Delina said.
State Sen. Mario Scavello, one of the spectators, noted that volunteer students from the schools were there late Wednesday night getting the fields prepared.
"God bless them," he said. "They have their hearts in the right place."
Student volunteer Liah Jardl, an East Stroudsburg South junior said, "I think it's a day for the community to come together. We focus on the abilities of every athlete that comes. It's one of the best ways to feel connected."
The opening ceremonies, mercifully to the point, featured the East Stroudsburg High School South's marching band, adding an atmosphere of festivity to the day's events.
Competitions were staged among the perimeter of the field and on the track. Wheelchair racers competed as volunteers pushed them towards the finish line. There was even a category for motorized wheelchairs.
Athlete Joseph O'Dowd of East Stroudsburg High School North competed in the softball throw. He tossed the ball 38 feet.
"It's fun," he said. "Better than class."
Athlete Kelcee Husiarski of East Stroudsburg High School South said it was a great day. "Fun stuff," she said.
Competitor Brianna Texeria, a senior of East Stroudsburg High School South competed in the softball throw, a dash and the shot put.
"It feels really good to come here," she said, "because I have my buddies around me who keep an eye on me."
Dark clouds moved in 45 minutes into the event and raindrops fell softly on the field, but Agratto encouraged the athletes to continue.
"This is going to blow over," he said. "We are not stopping."
And most didn't.
Agratto reflected on his dedication to the event.
"I love seeing these kids happy."
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