Shelby County Schools hosts 2024 Special Olympics

By MACKENZEE SIMMS | Staff Writer

CALERA – On the chilly morning of Wednesday, March 20, school buses from all over Shelby County gathered in the parking lot of Oliver Park in Calera. Each bus was full of students from more than 30 different schools, ready to compete in this year’s Special Olympics.

Just like the international Olympics, the day started with an opening ceremony. After the national anthem and recitation of the athlete’s pledge, student Thomas Neeley carried the Olympic torch into the arena, escorted by members of the Calera Police Department.

Calera Police Chief David Hyche shared that the Special Olympics has been close to his heart since his daughter competed when she was eight years old.

“We always host the Special Olympics for Shelby County here in Calera which I’m really proud of,” Hyche said. “Our staff will go out along with the Special Olympics athletes and we’ll run the torch into the stadium. We’re very, very proud to be a part of that.”

The Special Olympics featured a variety of track and field events. The field events included tennis ball and softball throws, shot put and jump events. On the track, students competed in adaptive bicycle and wheelchair races as well as running events up to the 400-meter dash.

From Mt Laurel Elementary School, Special Education Teacher Holly Jones jumped up and down on the sidelines of the track, cheering on her students during one of the races. After embracing one of her students who had just crossed the finish line, Jones proclaimed that the Special Olympics was the best day ever.

“I’m here with my class because it’s the greatest day ever,” Jones said. “It is amazing to see all these friends of all kinds of abilities do their thing and to cheer them on.”

The Special Olympics is organized by different members of the Shelby County school district’s special education department. According to Adaptive P.E. Teacher Taylor Lewis, the goal of the Special Olympics is to celebrate special needs students by offering them a day of competition and fun.

“It’s their day to shine,” Lewis said. “It’s their field day. They look forward to it all year long.”

With 24 years of involvement with the Special Olympics, vision teacher and event coordinator Valinda Pate shared the reason why she continues to take part in the Special Olympics.

“(My favorite part) is seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids,” Pate said. “It brightens my day to see them happy.”

Those interested in learning more about Shelby County School’s special education department can visit Shelbyed.k12.al.us/page/special-education.

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