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'Olympics' let special-needs students shine

Washington Local system offers day of athletics, just hanging out

  • Antoinette-Cobbler-of-Whitmer-High

    Antoinette Cobbler of Whitmer High, foreground, works with Cadiel Santana, 6, of Hiawatha Elementary as Bailey Kurdys of Washington Junior High coaches Trey Prentice, 9, of Jackman Elementary.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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  • Washington-Local-Schools-superintendent-Patrick-Hickey

    Washington Local Schools superintendent Patrick Hickey congratulates his son Noah Hickey.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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Antoinette-Cobbler-of-Whitmer-High

Antoinette Cobbler of Whitmer High, foreground, works with Cadiel Santana, 6, of Hiawatha Elementary as Bailey Kurdys of Washington Junior High coaches Trey Prentice, 9, of Jackman Elementary.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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Derrick Hurst dug deep and ran faster than ever before -- twice.

With arms outstretched, the 18-year-old Whitmer High School student celebrated crossing the finish line Saturday during Washington Local's first annual "Infinite Opportunity Olympics."

PHOTOS: Infinite Opportunity Olympics

Earlier in the event, young Cadiel Santana, a 6-year-old from Washington Local's Hiawatha Elementary School, glided toward the finish line like a little spark of lightning.

At the end of the day, 13-year-old Jason Boyd, with a medal draped around his neck, was all smiles after his three events -- the most challenging of which he said was a 100-meter dash.

"He has been telling me about this for about a year," said Jason's grandmother Valerie Boyd.

"Jason wanted to make sure I had it on my calendar and came," she said. "He loves sports and running, but can't really do it too much, so he was really excited about this."

Washington Local Schools organized the event for its students with disabilities to compete against each other in track and field.

Washington-Local-Schools-superintendent-Patrick-Hickey

Washington Local Schools superintendent Patrick Hickey congratulates his son Noah Hickey.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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Members of Whitmer's girls track team were paired with special-needs participants, sometimes just hanging out on the football field before a race, or in other cases, running down the track alongside a wheelchair.

Cadiel, who uses a walker because of cerebral palsy, was just excited to hang out with his friends and see the crowds, said his parents.

"This was great for him, and we love it," said his father, Carlos Santana.

A lot of the boy's time is spent in therapy, including physical, speech, and work with horses in Whitehouse. Mr. Santana said Cadiel's hard work paid off Saturday.

"My son did really well," he said before the trio walked down the field.

Washington Local Superintendent Patrick Hickey, whose son Noah competed, said the district would hold the event annually and possibly expand it.

"Our goal is to grow this, and this was everything we want our school district to be," Mr. Hickey said. "We love all our kids and we want them all to be everything they can."

The event participants' challenges ranged from learning disabilities to physical disabilities.

Kim Hurst, the mother of Derrick Hurst, said he has been planning for the event for weeks.

"We were camping this morning and got going back here at 6 a.m. so we could be here for this," Ms. Hurst said. "He has a learning disability and also he has seizures, so he is not supposed to be running but couldn't be stopped. It's good to have all the kids involved in something, not just the cool kids, you know?"

Derrick sat on the field with his buddies in between his 200-meter run and 100-meter dash.

"I didn't start huffing and puffing until right there," he said, pointing near the finish line.

In all, 60 students participated in a total of 19 events Saturday. Catie Riker, a Washington Local special education teacher who planned the event over the past year, said it is important to get special-needs students involved in athletics.

"We came up with the idea a few years ago and thought it would be great and got into the heavy planing at the end of last school year," Ms. Riker said. "I started out teaching in a classroom for a lot of the participants and I noticed that for one reason or another, they just don't really do any athletics, so I wanted to have something for them to be involved in and be able to show their pride for the district."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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