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Skills were on display at this special event, but there was also time to mingle

Partner Stella McBride, left, helps Kamaya Dickson run the bases during a softball skills completion at the Houston County Special Olympics Friday.
Partner Stella McBride, left, helps Kamaya Dickson run the bases during a softball skills completion at the Houston County Special Olympics Friday. jvorhees@macon.com

More than 700 Houston County special education students showed off their skills with great enthusiasm at the Houston County Special Olympics at the Houston County High School track on Oct. 19-20. But the games weren’t the only highlight of the event. Although chock full of activities, the event also gave students a chance to socialize, mingle, eat lunch and make new friends.

All six high schools, all eight middle schools and 14 elementary schools participated in the fall games, according to Dr. Brenda Arnett, the Adaptive Physical Education Specialist for Houston County.

Approximately 400 students from pre-k through fifth grade competed on Oct. 19 in 20 different activities that they rotated through on their own, according to Arnett. Activities included working on dribbling balls, throwing bean bags, playing horseshoe and working on soccer skills, just to name a few.

“It’s just a day where they do like a rotation and can go from skill to skill and work on different skills levels for their hands and feet,” she explained. “There were lots of activities for them to do.”

The following day, more than 350 students from sixth through seniors participated in activities that included Bocce, softball skills and soccer. Ribbons were given out after each event for first through fourth places, Arnett said.

Approximately 10 coaches from different schools helped throughout the event, along with 200 to 300 partners, middle school and high school students who volunteered their time to assist the special education students with their activities, according to Arnett.

Megan Brown, a senior at Warner Robins High School, said she has been a partner for a student all four years of high school through the Partner’s Club. She said she enjoys helping her buddy interact with other people during the day and has had some of her past buddies remember her and come back to talk to her. Brown said her work doesn’t stop with the Special Olympics event. She also sits with the students at school lunch and engages them in conversation. For her, she said, it is a year-long commitment.

Kristilyn Ferrer, 22, a student at the Transition Academy, said she enjoys making new friends and playing Bocce because she is really good at it.

“I like to win a ribbon,” she admitted, adding that she wants a blue ribbon for first place.

Her father, Jose Ferrer, said he believes the activities are good because they “push their limits even though they have some disabilities” and have helped his daughter challenge herself. As a result, she has been able to accept winning and losing.

“It makes them feel like normal kids with normal activities,” he said.

Talenthea Hollis, a special education teacher at Huntington Middle School, said the event gives the special education students a chance to interact with regular education students they don’t normally interact with, some of whom they may have not seen since elementary school because they were zoned for different middle schools.

“We were very fortunate; our school does a mini-sendoff party with the band playing,” she said. “So the kids felt special when they started to leave the school, and then the partners from the high schools are waiting and cheer for them once they arrive.”

One of Hollis’ students, Rachel Brown, 14, was with her mom at the event and enjoyed playing Bocce and “hanging out with friends.” Her mom, Alison Brown, said her daughter had the chance to do something else that would have meant missing the Special Olympics, but Rachel turned it down because she didn’t want to miss the activities.

“It’s good for her,” Brown said about her daughter. “She’s very social. She likes socializing and getting to see people she hasn’t seen in a while. It gives her a chance to do something everybody else does.”

“You would be surprised how competitive some of them are,” said Arnett. “It’s fun to watch them…especially middle and highs school kids; it gives them a chance to be competitive like their peers.”

Some of the special education students will go to Atlanta in January to compete at the state Special Olympics, where they will compete in different activities, Arnett said. Anyone who wants to compete can go.

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