Day Of Champions Brings Smiles

day of champions


By Laurie O’Brien

duncan sponsorRainy skies and cool temperatures couldn’t dampen the smiles and enthusiasm of hundreds of special education students from all over Thurston County.   They converged on the football field at Tumwater High School for the 7th annual Day of Champions Track and Field Event on Thursday, May 23, 2013.  (For even more photos, click here.)

Accompanied by teachers, parents, and student volunteers, kindergartners through high school aged students with special needs were greeted as they came off the buses by cheerleaders from Tumwater and Black Hills High Schools as well as a group of soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

day of champions
Student volunteers Mackenzie Cunningham and Clare Wirzbicki pose with Julius and Trinity at the 2013 Day of Champions.

Prior to individual events starting, everyone took part in the parade of champions, a march around the track to “The Bugler’s Dream,” better known as the Olympic March.  The look of anticipation on the participants’ faces was telling.  Many of the older kids have been coming to the Day of Champions since they were in elementary school, and it is a highlight of their school year.  Tumwater High School leadership students and other volunteers surrounded the track and high-fived all the athletes as they made the quarter mile trek, many of them being pushed in wheelchairs.

After taking a moment for the Star Spangled Banner, the games began and the stadium filled with music designed to get everyone pumped up.

This year’s events included the 50 meter dash, a distance those in chairs and on foot could complete as many times as they liked.  Some ran; some floored it in motorized wheelchairs; still others grabbed the hand of an attendant and walked the distance taking carefully measured steps.  It wasn’t a race against the clock or an opponent; it was a test to see if you were willing to go the distance.

The discus, shot put, and javelin were all adapted to fit the needs of the students in attendance.  The discus was a Frisbee aimed at a net.  The shot put was actually a Nerf ball, light and pliable enough so even those with severe muscular issues could get it moving through the air.  The javelin was one of the more popular events.  Pool noodles were launched through the air with various degrees of success, but everyone had fun trying to make them soar.

Because many special education students have difficulty with verbal communication, navigating their way in the general school population can sometimes be a challenge, even if a student has a one-on-one attendant.  Peer involvement is key to bridging that gap.  Many schools brought student volunteers who have reached out to the special needs students throughout the year to the Day of Champions.

Evergreen Elementary student volunteers Mackenzie Cunningham and Clare Wirzbicki were excited to be at the event with their special education friends.  “Clare and I always read with these kids every day,” said Mackenzie.  “It’s a gift that we get to spend time with them.”

day of champions
Chelsea Lamoreaux and Lena Moreno pose with their friend Osiris Gilkey during the Day of Champions sporting event.

Juniors Chelsea Lamoreaux and Lena Moreno serve as mentors in the Success Oriented Physical Education Program at Capital High School.  “We mentor kids with special needs,” explained Lamoreaux.  Developing a relationship in a P.E. class often leads to better peer interaction throughout the day.   Having someone to sit with in a crowded lunch room is a relief for many students with special needs. And for the other students, the experience is one in personal growth and acceptance.  Said Moreno, “I’ve learned how to be patient, and it’s really, really, humbling.”

Parents know that the bonds forged by these sorts of programs can be life altering.  Kathy Muelheisen’s 16 year old son, Mikey, is autistic, but last year he developed a special bond with some of the students who worked with him.  “It means the world when he can fit in,” said Muelheisen.  She continued on to say that in the past, some of the telltale  signs of autism, like rocking and hand flapping, have disappeared when Mikey’s peers have given him unconditional acceptance.  “He loves being with kids who accept him for who he is and don’t treat him any differently.”

day of championsThere were at least 100 student volunteers at this year’s Day of Champions.  They were there, helping kids with special needs move through the obstacle course and push the big ball through a twisty alley.  They were there to help grab the burgers in the chow line and carry them back up under the bleachers to stay out of the rain.  They were there to lend their support to their special friends, to celebrate, and to have fun.

Participants in the Day of Champions came from:  Tumwater, Olympia, Tenino, Rainier, Yelm, North Thurston, Griffin, and Rochester School Districts.

Sponsor funding made the event free for all participants.  All athletes were awarded a medal for their participation, and all athletes and student volunteers got a free t-shirt and a free barbeque lunch.  See all the event photos here.

Sponsors included:

Stephen B. Kern, D.M.D, Family Dentistry

Northwest Endodontics

day of championsOlympia Credit Union

O Bee Credit Union

Pro Active Sports Medicine

Costco Wholesale

Color Graphics/Deer Creek Awards

ABC Pediatrics

Tenino Family Dental Center

Canine Hydrotherapy and Massage

Bobby Rocha

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