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AHS takes on Special Olympics

A place with “good food, good games, and very nice people,” junior Caden Tiernan said.
Lydia Gerety
Southview eighth grader, Noemi Gavilan, runs to celebrate with teammates. Special Olympics is unique because it presents opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to compete in athletics.

On April 24, 712 athletes came to Ankeny High School (AHS) to participate in the Special Olympics, along with more than 300 staff members and 90 Special Olympics volunteers.

Special Olympics has a mission to provide year-round athletic competition for students and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics offers over 30 competitive sports and this year, AHS hosted the track and field event.

“It was so fun and all the kids absolutely loved it. Fifteen students from Ankeny High School placed first in at least one of their events,” senior peer helper Charley Baggley said. 

Some of the events offered were a 25-meter wheelchair push, a 400-meter walk or dash, a softball throw, and a mini javelin throw.

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“I won third place in jousting,” junior Caden Tiernan said. 

Similar to the sports and activities general education students participate in, athletes competing in Special Olympics also get medals and the opportunity to qualify for state.

“It is fun for them to show their classmates their awards when they get them,” paraprofessional at Wallace Elementary School in Johnston, Lorie Vandermaten said.

The Special Olympics is also about more than competing. It provides a space for students to connect with each other and cheer their friends and teammates on.

Sophomore Mia Crawford celebrates finishing her 50-meter dash. (Lydia Gerety)

“They can go out and join other people from places they don’t know. And get together with people they connect to,” senior peer helper Jenna Kirby said.

Oftentimes some students with disabilities are in one or two classrooms throughout the day and events like Special Olympics provide them a space to connect not only with their friends but other people in the school and students from other schools that they might not see on a daily basis.

“They feel safe talking there,” junior peer helper Allie Mains said. “You will have anyone come up to you and say hi.”

AHS had 85 student volunteers. Some of these students were peer helpers involved in P.E.O.P.L.E P.E and Circle of Friends while others were athletes that were asked to help out. Volunteers helped in many areas, one being timing students on the track.

“[Volunteers] were cheering on their lane, even if it wasn’t someone from our [AHS] school,” Kirby said. “And before some of those kids have never helped with anything special needs related.”

Peer helpers in P.E.O.P.L.E P.E and Circle of Friends are always needed and if interested students should contact Special Olympics sponsor and P.E.O.P.L.E. P.E. teacher Ashley McCoy. One of the best ways to get to know these students is to get involved.

“Volunteer, see what’s out there in the community,” paraprofessional at Wallace Elementary School Johnston, Brenda Scherer said. “See what these kids are able to do.”

AHS has many students with disabilities who have the same or similar interests to their peers, but to know this, students need to reach out and communicate with them.

“Learn how their brain works,” senior peer helper Ella Chicoine said. “A lot of kids don’t want to be talked to like they’re a little kid. You still want to talk to them like a regular peer.”

Inclusion can come in many different forms, whether that be creating a connection with someone or just being friendly.

“If you have a class with a student that has special needs, just be like ‘Hey how are you,’” Baggley said. “Treat them like you would anyone else in that class.”

By being inclusive or volunteering in the Special Olympics, students are getting outside their comfort zone and learning from people who are different from them. Special Olympics presents an opportunity for connections to grow and students to be showcased.

“It is being a part of something that is bigger than you,” Baggley said. “You’re doing something that’s not just for you. It can really open up your heart and show you that being inclusive is cool.”

This story was originally published on The Talon on April 30, 2024.