Wednesday, the day was bright and so was the Special Olympics spirit at the games for the north part of Chautauqua County held at SUNY Fredonia.
During the opening ceremony, an enthusiastic parade of athletes entered Dods Hall. Contingents from BOCES in Fredonia, Brocton Central School, Cassadaga Valley Central School, Dunkirk Public Schools, Forestville Central School, Pine Valley Central School, and Silver Creek Central School were greeted by the cheers of their supporters.
The marchers wore T-shirts in a rainbow of colors, donated by Dr. John Mulawka of Dunkirk Pediatrics.
One of the most moving parts of the opening ceremony was the pitch-perfect performance of the Star Spangled Banner by Special Olympian Elijah Williams. He acknowledged the cheers after he finished singing with a thumbs-up. Then it was time to "let the games begin."
"About 280 athletes are here today. They will compete in girls' and boys' softball throw, standing long jump, running long jump, races, adaptive races, and relays,"said Larisa Aldrich, from the City of Dunkirk Youth Bureau, one of the coordinators for the event.
Aldrich also pointed out that there were about 120 teen volunteers from the BOCES program, Dunkirk High School, Brocton High School, Fredonia High School, Forestville High School, and Pine Valley Central School. Adult volunteers were evident too, working at the tables where ribbons were handed out, managing events, serving refreshments, and cooking hot dogs.
OBSERVER Photos by Diane R. Chodan
Jane Campbell presents a medal to one of the most improved athletes. The awards are in honor of Jane’s daughter, Katie Campbell, a special education teacher who was killed by a drunk driver.
Ethan Cooper decides to strike a pose when showing his second-place ribbon for racing at the Special Olympics.
Maureen Bialaszewski, a BOCES teacher, and longtime coordinator, said she has been volunteering with Special Olympics for 30 years, 23 of them as coordinator of the local event. "I remember this event has been going on for 23 years because I was pregnant with my son the first year."
When the Olympians weren't competing, there were other things to do. Carnival games such as ring toss and fishing were set up outdoors. Volunteers awarded the prizes and everyone was a winner. Colorfully dressed clowns roved through the grounds speaking to the participants and making balloon decorations for them. Some volunteers organized impromptu games with the group to which they were assigned. Lunch was hotdogs, chips and orange drink.
Jane and her daughter Sarah Campbell were on hand to present the most improved athlete awards, a medal with a red white and blue ribbon. The awards have been given for 25 years in honor of Katie Campbell, Jane's daughter and Sarah's sister. Katie was a special education teacher who was killed by a drunk driver.
Sarah announced the awards while Jane placed the medals around the athletes' necks and spoke to each one.
"One year we gave an award as most improved to someone who learned how to jump rump. That was so much fun,"said Sarah.
"This is a wonderful example of a community-based program. There is an amazing level of volunteerism and enthusiasm here." said Rob Mitchell, Program Director of Western NY Special Olympics.
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