By Kiara Kunnes, Staff Writer
// Grinning faces filled the field, as nearly 500 Special Education students from across Contra Costa County competed in Acalanes’ fifth annual Special Olympics on April 26.
Student athletes had the chance to participate in a variety of familiar Olympic track and field events including the javelin throw, shot putting with a tennis ball, and the mile run.
“I think my students love it because they get all of that recognition and praise. At first they are a little nervous and embarrassed, but once they are out there it is great,” Special Education teacher Marie Townsend said.
According to Special Education teachers Townsend and Jasmina Radmanovic, Acalanes had a total of 29 students participate this year.
In order to help the event run smoothly, many volunteers attended the event to assist the students. Approximately 100 of those volunteers were Acalanes students, according to Leadership Advisor Katherine Walton. The student volunteers cheered on athletes, distributed snacks, and recorded data.
“Every year it is really easy to get student volunteers, which I think shows so much about the Special Olympics and our student body,” Walton said.
Sophomore Paige Holder, who assisted in long jump, was one of the many student volunteers.
“This year I joined the Friendly Faces club, and I really enjoyed doing that, so I thought that I would like to help out with one of the biggest events of the year,” Holder said. “My favorite part is probably how happy it makes a lot of people here, and how much this really means to all the schools and teams participating.”
The Contra Costa County Games helps bring out some of the student athletes’ secret talents.
“I found out we have some stars in our class. Salvador Barajas threw a tennis ball over a hundred feet. It was sailing through the air. It blew me away. I never knew he could through that far,” Townsend said.
Every athlete received a ribbon for participating in the Special Olympics, and students who participated in relays got special ribbons. However, only students who ran the mile had the opportunity to medal.
According to Townsend, prior to the Special Olympics she asked her students to sign up for a maximum of three events. However, once her students were out at the Games, what each student signed up for didn’t necessarily determine the specific events they participated in.
Both Radmanovic and Townsend’s classes began preparing for the Games after spring break when the unified sports program began their track and field portion. According to Radmanovic, they took class time to practice as well.
“What I found was once they got of there they did all of the of them because it is fun. There is a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and people are like ‘come on you can do it,’” Townsend said.
Prior to the day of the Special Olympics, a significant amount of planning takes place. According to Contra Costa County Schools Coordinator Sherri Roberti, she had to start planning two months before the day of the event.
Preparation for the Contra Costa County Games included registering classes for events and receiving permits for Acalanes. This year Roberti also had to provide Living Hope Church with permits in order to use their parking lot.
“It’s a lot of work, but it is for such a great cause. You have to put a lot of work into it so it runs smoothly,” Roberti said.
Leadership’s Community Outreach Board also helped make the day a success. The group made posters and recruited volunteers. The Community Outreach Board also planned a pasta feed for Acalanes’ athletes the night before the event.
“We invite their families and it is like a senior night for that student population. It really is nice to validate the effort, time, and great accomplishments for a group of students that doesn’t always get that recognition,” said Walton.
Throughout the years, the Special Olympics has become a charity of choice for law enforcement agencies. As a result, many police officers walked around the track in uniform with a torch during the opening ceremony, and later on in the day they handed out ribbons and medals. Sergeant Matt Avery of the Pinole Police Department was one of the police officers who attended the event.
“I have been doing this for years. I love coming out and just supporting the athletes and seeing them interact with all the students throughout the Bay Area. It is one of the highlights of my year,” said Avery.