Special Olympics fosters inclusivity on the field

On a cool Saturday morning, the cheers of students, parents and staff alike roared from the football field. Taking a closer look, students are seen getting their faces painted and running across the field with their buddies. On May 14, the annual Special Olympics took place, organized by the NPHS National Honors Society (NHS). The event strives to promote inclusion through numerous athletic activities that both children and adults with disabilities take part in, from relays to the long jump to softball throws.

After attending Special Olympics at another school nine years ago, Anne Alvarez, NHS advisor and Learning Essentials Academic Program (LEAP) teacher, decided to bring the event into NPHS several years ago. Now, the event includes students from school districts all over Ventura County. “Special Olympics is an opportunity for [students with disabilities] to show off their talents in a different way than everyone is used to. This gives them the opportunity to compete in a meet and feel good about themselves, and everybody in the meet gets medals no matter where you place,” Alvarez said.

Sammi Stewart, adapted physical education teacher and Special Olympics co-organizer, has been volunteering for Special Olympics since she was nine. “I like the inclusion aspect of all the athletes getting partnered up with a buddy,” Stewart said. “My favorite stuff is seeing the families be able to see their students dominate the track, seeing what their kids really can do and then the volunteers making connections with each other or the buddies.”

Students took on the great task of organizing Special Olympics this year, including Edyn Stepler, senior and NHS member. “It’s a great opportunity to hangout with families from around our county, getting to know people and their stories, and it’s just a great way to help out the school and our community,” Edyn Stepler, junior and volunteer, said.

Special Olympics involves a number of roles and the intermixing of these demographics is what truly fosters awareness and inclusion. “Being a mom of a 23-year-old with a disability, I live this life; I’m on both sides of the dichotomy,” Stewart said. “By having students growing with individuals with disabilities, when you guys go into the world and you’re in the government, you’re at a business, you’re thinking, ‘How can we include others?’”

With another successful Special Olympics coming to a close, Alvarez appreciates all the community members who lent hands to make the day as spectacular as possible. “I love seeing all the activity, all the involvement, and that I didn’t have to be there telling everybody what to do,” Alvarez said. “And then to hear the comments from the parents, how excited they are to see their kids and cheering them on when they get their award–that’s special, really special.”