By Zoe Cate, Staff Writer
// Nearly 500 Special Education at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels students flooded the Acalanes High School field with the roar of the crowd behind them and the prospect of a day full of sporting events that would put them in the spotlight of family, teachers, friends, and spectators alike.
Special Education students from Contra Costa County had the opportunity to participate in the 6th Annual Bay Area Games at Acalanes on April 24. The athletes could take part in various track and field events ranging from javelin throw to the mile run.
Each face in the stadium, the athletes’ and spectators alike, was smiling. Leadership teacher Katherine Walton hopes that the students made some unforgettable memories.
“It’s their day to shine. These kids are kids that have a different school experience than most and I think from watching them just walk down the track during opening ceremonies to competing in events that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do is something they’ll remember,” Walton said. “It’s not often they get that opportunity to be in front of spectators, and I hope it’s something that they feel good about.”
To prepare for this day, the Acalanes athletes began practicing several weeks before the games took place. The Special Education classes even utilized academy periods to perfect their techniques.
“We practiced each of the disciplines that we were involved in, including a little baton passing for the relay. Getting through the technical things like that, making sure that we know what to do when we get out there,” Special Education teacher Jasy Radmanovic said.
Another Special Education teacher, Marie Townsend, encourages her students to sign up for three events, but some of her junior and senior students choose to help other students instead.
“Sometimes my juniors and seniors opt not to do it. They would rather help out with some of Jasy’s students who have a few more challenges than my students or they want to help out with one of the other schools like Stanley,” Townsend said.
The Bay Area Games is a great opportunity for Special Education students to showcase their talents to hundreds of spectators. For Townsend, the unified relay race was a highlight of the day.
“I have some students who are pretty good athletes, and so they got to showcase their talents to the whole school. Sometimes there are surprises like they outdo what they have done previously, so that makes it pretty fun,” Townsend said. “Daniel Lopez, he is one of our fastest runners and a freshman, he outdid the two gen ed kids who were running in the unified relay race, and we won because he just was beyond what they had expected. It was a really nice surprise for everybody.”
To make this beloved day happen, the help of volunteers is essential. This year 150 volunteers pitched in to ensure that the event ran smoothly.
Among the 150 volunteers was sophomore Olivia Aaron. Aaron volunteered as a gatekeeper, her duties entailing keeping the track clear while races were going on. She also helped direct people and answered any questions that people had.
“I very much enjoyed today, and I would have regretted it if I never decided to volunteer. I really loved seeing how everyone got together and made this event work. Also, how happy everyone in the races was, everyone got super into it, and I thought that was super cool,” Aaron said.
According to Radmanovic, the volunteers always make the athletes feel like Olympians.
“They are so willing to help whenever needed. Yesterday, we threw together an extra relay team, and there were several students who wanted to run the relay with us, and we had to turn people away, so they’re very enthusiastic about helping. We definitely appreciate it, and the students appreciate it,” Radmanovic said.
Walton hopes that the students volunteering learn from the example that the Special Education students are setting.
“I hope that they see resilience and passion and effort and that’s what you commend in these students. Knowing that their challenges are different from my challenges, and yet they still show up and still compete with a smile on their face, I think is something really validating,” Walton said.
Competing in the Bay Area Games comes with many benefits for the athletes. Not only do they get to improve their athletic abilities, but they also improve their social skills.
“It has a huge impact on socialization because they learn to express verbally what they like and what they don’t like. They like the comradery of their teammates, and they talk about their teammates doing really well,” mom of Special Education student Amy Gee, Juliet Gee said. “The self-esteem also increases tremendously.”
Although the sporting events are exciting, for Townsend, nothing compares to the thrill of the parade.
“My favorite thing is the parade. I love when everybody comes marching in, and the stands are yelling and screaming. That is one of the highlights because all of a sudden they are really embracing and celebrating the students and you’re representing your school. It’s a really Olympic moment.”
Gee hopes that the spectators saw the athletes as more than Special Education students but as people yearning to compete, just like everyone else.
“I hope that people see that the athletes have all these tremendous abilities and see them for being athletes and not for being ‘disabled’ because every one of them puts their whole heart into whatever they’re competing in.”