Special moments of victory

Students enjoy their successes in the Special Olympics at Webster Grove High School, April 8


Eric Kronmiller (10), gets the crowd pumped up before he competes in the 100 Meter dash.

The Special Olympics is an annual event—held all around the world–for all willing athletes in Special School District. This year Webster Groves High School partnered with the SSD and hosted the local 2014 Special Olympics.

The day included friendly competitions such as running, standing long jump and the softball throw among the 170 athletes from 17 schools.

Although the previous bad weather had forced the olympics indoors, the athletes remained enthusiastic about their competitions ahead.

Each athlete trains for the Special Olympics in their own way. Brockton Vanek (9),  was assigned to compete in the standing long jump, the 100 meter dash and the softball throw. Vanek said that Coach Chadd Lamason, PE teacher, helped prepare him for the competition.

This preparation for the Special Olympics made the athletes confident for the day’s events.

“They love practicing for the Special Olympics,” Mrs. Tina Hilliard, SSD teacher, said. “I love watching them because they think they are on a varsity track team when they practice, and when we go to the event they believe they are a true varsity Wildcat.”

That Tuesday morning each participating school assembled in Webster’s main gym for the opening ceremony. The ceremony began with Kerrie Townsend, SSD director of the Special Olympics, welcoming all the schools and introducing the administration from Webster High School.

The crowd then stood and faced the flag and sang the national anthem together. While the athletes were still standing, designated athletes from the SSD, who memorized the oath of sportsmanship, recited it in front of the audience. As the anticipation escalated, a parade of athletes from each school carried the torch, sparking the entire day with energy.

After the opening ceremonies, the athletes were buddied-up with student volunteers from Webster Groves High School, and together they began their journey of competitions. The partnership between student and athlete created a sense of community and new friendships.

“The student volunteers that buddy with the athletes may feel a little hesitant at first, but then they confront that in themselves and  they push forward and start working together with their athlete as a person, not as someone with special needs,” Mrs. Hilliard said. “We start looking at each other people-to-people, and I think that it’s amazing.”

Athletes, fellow students, and teachers rallied around each event and cheered on the contestants. The crowd produced a consistent roar as each athlete lined up for the standing long jump.

Brockton Vanek took the spotlight when he won first place in the standing long jump, second place in the softball throw and third place in the 100m dash and the relay race.

Vanek reflected on the day and affirmed that he was very prepared.

“I had a lot of fun,” Vanek said. “It felt good to win.”

But the day was filled with more than competition. After the athletes contested for ribbons, they made their way to the Olympic Village another room at WGHS, where they were greeted with upbeat music, face painting, carnival games and prizes.

Alexia Almedia-Ruiz (9) said that her favorite part of the Olympic Village was the games and face painting. Alexia was decorated with the spirit of the Special Olympics. She had a rainbow painted on her cheek, and a red and  two blue ribbons pinned to her chest. 

As the day came winding down, the athletes gathered in the main gym for the final event: the relay race.

The bleachers rumbled as the crowd cheered for the athletes. At the wave of the hand the runners took off, passing the baton to their teammate as they made their way back.

The crowd applauded and shouted words of encouragement for every athlete, down to the last one. (Eureka placed first, third, and fourth out of six competing teams.

The athletes got back on the bus and made their way back to school to show off their ribbons and prizes.

The smiles that spread from ear to ear conveyed that the overall day was a success.  But the celebration did not end at the finish line. When the athletes made their way back to school they wore their ribbons to show off their hard work.

“The best part about the Special Olympics is the integration of all of us who are able and the ones who aren’t so able and all of us working together in a positive and energetic environment,” Mrs. Hilliard said. “It’s just a great people-to-people connection. The best thing to see is the smiles on the athletes’ faces and to see them feel, ‘Oh my gosh, I did it!’ even if that means that they ran not even half across the gym.”

But the Special Olympics doesn’t end with this event. There are many more opportunities for these athletes down the road.

“I love the idea of how these guys can participate in Special Olympics as they get older,” Mrs. Hilliard said. “It is nation-wide, so no matter where they are as adults, and there are tons of events for adults, it keeps them physically fit and moving which is so important.”