By Melanie Langness, West Johnston High School Student
Johnston County Schools hosted its annual Special Youth Olympics competition at Smithfield-Selma High School in Smithfield on April 24th, to benefit students and children in the surrounding community with special needs.
The participants 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 excitedly shook his medals as he talked about his experiences.
“I played softball and the 50 meter run,” Wilkerson said. “It made me feel like a winner.”
The organizing committee takes special care in creating this sporting tournament– referees, tournament brackets, medallion podiums, and official water stations are all part of the event.
According to Wilkerson’s mother, Stephanie Johnson, this year’s Special Youth Olympics did a great job of inspiring her son to give the competition his all.
Events included typical field day games and activities alongside traditional Olympic sports. Each contest was differentiated to the needs of each individual participant.
“The hosts created bowling, bean bags, softball throw, 100 meter run, 200 meter run, 100 meter walk, 200 meter walk; 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,” West Johnston life skills teacher Jennifer Youngblood said.
Volunteer and sister of a participant Mariah Flint described how the organizers work to make sure each event can be done by students of all developmental levels. Her wheelchair-bound sister, Tiff, she explained, is able to use a specialized rack to roll a bowling ball straight to a strike instead of taking the traditional standing throw approach.
The Special Olympics were founded in 1968, and have since grown to training over 4.4 million members for athletic competitions in 170 countries. In Johnston County, the county 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. It’s been successful ever since,” said Youngblood. “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 National Honors Society (NHS), Health Occupation Student Association (HOSA), and life skills peer tutors gathered waters and snacks for the day and followed in another set of buses. Spots are coveted for this enjoyable service trip, and students send in their intent to 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,” said Johnson. “It just makes you appreciate life in a whole new perspective.”