‘Their time to shine’: SCS hosts Special Olympics

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

CALERA – More than 200 special needs students enrolled in Shelby County Schools gathered at the Calera High School football field on Wednesday, March 20, for the annual Special Olympics games.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter carried the torch and SCSO Lt. Mark Bishop to the event. After lighting the torch Bishop carried it for the first let of the torch run and then Kyle Beckham, a special needs student at Helena High School, joined him. The two, along with other law enforcement officials, completed the torch run to the football field.

The Special Olympics games were organized by the school systems adapted physical education teachers who travel between the school providing P.E. lessons to the districts special needs students. Adapted P.E. teacher Patsy Maner the annual event gives the students a chance to participate in competitive sports.

“Most of them to do activities and play sports just like typical students,” she said. “This is their day. It is their time to shine. We make a big deal about it because they deserve it.”

Maner said some of the games, like the tennis ball throw, are adapted to fit the students’ needs. The adapted tennis ball throw competition allows students with limited mobility to use a slingshot to propel the ball forward. Each student participates in at least two competitions.

“We took races down from 50 meters to 25 or 10 meters so that they can do it independently,” she said. “The goal is to allow them to be as independent as possible.”

Peer Helper students from SCS high schools also attended the event to serve as buddies for some of the students with special needs.

“Some students are paired with a buddy and others with a sibling, parent or their teacher,” Maner said. “It’s case by case based on whatever works best for the student.”

Maner said parents and siblings are encouraged to attend the games to cheer on their athlete. She said it makes them feel good knowing their family is there watching and cheering.

Lynn Pepe, mother of 13-year-old Helena Middle School student Gianna Pepe, said her daughter has been competing in the Special Olympics since about second grade. This year, she participated in the 50-meter walk and the tennis ball throw.

“This is always fantastic because the kids realize and appreciate the attention,” Pepe said. “Gianna is so excited. She’s just been waiting for them to call her name so she can compete and be recognized.”

Pepe, a mother to three other daughters ages 8, 11, and 15, said her other daughters don’t attend the games.

“This is Gianna’s day,” she said. “The other kids are in school because I want her to have all of my attention.”

Pepe praised the school system for their efforts to make the day special.

“They do a fantastic job putting this together,” she said. “All of the activities are very well-rounded things that they can enjoy.”