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A Day Like Christmas!

Nearly 200 athletes compete and celebrate in Calvert Special Olympics

photos by Sonya Michael/ Bridgette Park from St. Leonard ­Elementary School completes a relay race. (Below) Calvert Middle School student Connor Porecki competes in a relay race with Adapted PE teacher Dustin Jackson behind him.
      Share a moment with the student athletes of Calvert County’s Special Olympics, and you may well burst into joyful tears at one more smile, one more hug, one more high-five, one more explosion of laughter.
       “This day is like Christmas!” said Kendra Bowen, a fifth-grade 25-meter racer in a wheelchair that looks souped-up but is actually powered by her pure determination and adrenaline. “This is my third time winning,” she said, wearing a huge smile and a powder blue Barstow Elementary T-shirt sporting a freshly pinned First Place ribbon. 
      Bowen was one of 191 athletes from 19 schools who arrived in a fleet of buses for the Calvert County Public Schools Track and Field on April 19. They marched through the gated field to cheers and applause from the crowd of family, friends, local VIPs and a support staff of nearly 200 who run a program that’s exciting, safe, fun and from the heart. 
     “We do it for these kids,” said Jean Hahn, assistant special education director for Calvert County. Tears well up as she scans the field. “This Special Olympics day was created for them.” 
     From the beginning, the tone was set for the deep appreciation felt by the athletes. Director of Special Education Christy Harris welcomed the crowd, saying, “I spoke to a mother this morning who said, ‘This is the best day of the year to be the parent of a special needs child.’ That says it all!”
      Harris has been with the Special Education program for 12 years and its director since 2013. She, like Hahn, and seemingly every other staffer, scanned the field not wanting to miss a moment or a need. There were a lot of happy tears.
      “We presume competence,” Harris said. “We set up the students for success, and it doesn’t stop here. This is an avenue for them to move forward to the next levels of competition.”
      Students are divided by grade: Junior Athletes grades 2-7 and Athletes grades 8-11. For the bigger kids, the intensity ranged from a four-member baton-passing relay to throwing softballs, tennis balls and a shot put. The smaller kids balance, dance and throw balls, Frisbees, cloth fish, plastic frogs and rubber chickens. Who doesn’t enjoy throwing a rubber chicken?
      On post to congratulate the contestants and to present the awards were VIPs from the governor’s office to county commissioners, the sheriff and a squad of deputies and an array of educators. 
      The Knights of Columbus honor guard marched at the head of the parade and presented the colors, Makayla Jones led the Pledge of Allegiance, Andrew and Michael Mason sang the Star Spangled Banner and athlete Andrew Williams read the Special Olympics Oath. 
    “Let me win,” Williams read. “But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”