The Johnston County school system staged its annual Special Youth Olympics April 24 at Smithfield-Selma High School.
Students competed in specially-catered athletic events, working with volunteers, friends and family members to enjoy a day highlighting their athletic skills.
West Johnston student Zach Wilkerson shook his medals as he talked about his experiences. “I played softball and the 50-meter run,” he said. “It made me feel like a winner.”
The organizing committee takes care in creating this sporting tournament – referees, tournament brackets, medallion podiums and official water stations are all part of the event.
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Wilkerson’s mother, Stephanie Johnson, said this year’s Special Youth Olympics did a great job of inspiring her son to give the competition his all.
The competition included typical field day games and activities alongside traditional Olympic sports.
“The hosts created bowling, bean bags, softball throw, 100-meter run, 200-meter run, 100-meter walk, 200-meter walk,” said Jennifer Youngblood, a teacher in the Life Skills program at West Johnston. “They had standing long jump, running long jump, just a lot of things you’d see in a normal field activity. They’ve also adapted a lot of other things so that the kids who are more challenged can be successful.”
Mariah Flint, a volunteer and the sister of a participant, described how organizers shape each event so that students of all development levels can compete. For example, she said, her wheelchair-bound sister, Tiff, is able to use a specialized rack to roll a bowling ball.
Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics have since grown to more than 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries. In Johnston County, the school system’s adaptive PE teacher heads the event annually. This year, Vicky Loose was in charge.
“We’ve been coming for as long as I’ve been teaching Life Skills at West, about 12 years,” Youngblood said. “It’s been successful ever since. “A lot of people volunteer their time, lots of energy, because of the fact that they have compassion to work with this population and understand that everyone has value.”
Volunteers from the National Honors Society, Health Occupations Students of America and Life Skills peer tutors gathered water and snacks for the day. Because of the event’s popularity, students send in their volunteer forms weeks in advance.
“I think that it’s a very moving event for not only the participants but for the family and friends,” Johnson said. “It just makes you appreciate life in a whole new perspective.”