Special Olympics event meant to include all kids
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — All children had an equal chance to play Saturday during the Special Olympics Young Athletes program.
Children with disabilities ranging from autism to Down syndrome turned out alongside peers with typical development as they went through obstacle courses, relay races and stations that pushed them to use fine motor skills while trying things such as a search for items in a bin of rice.
“All kids play, you just have to have the activities and the right stuff to make sure everybody can participate,” said Kathy Bailey, a physical therapist and co-owner of One Step at a Time Therapy Services.
One Step at a Time and Partners in Learning teamed up to host Saturday’s event, the first Special Olympics Young Athletes in Rowan County.
They invited parents with children ranging from 2 to 8 years old to bring their little ones to Catawba College’s Shuford Stadium to participate in the event, regardless of whether their child had a disability or not.
“The primary goal is different from the regular Special Olympics because it’s for all children,” Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Parters in Learning, said.
Honeycutt said the event’s inclusiveness is an example of how the community can adapt activities and sports so that children with special needs can participate without feeling any different.
“The typical children also learn compassion and understanding,” she said.
Katherine Generaux, community inclusion director for Partners in Learning, said it’s important for both typical developing children and those with special needs to interact at a young age.
“Eventually they are going to be adults who are going to need to have the skills to be able to interact with diverse populations,” she said.
Honeycutt said Saturday’s event was a success, with more than 75 children participating.
“That’s excellent. I wasn’t sure how the turnout would be the first year,” she said.
Bobbie Hayes said her 2-year-old son, Bradley, enjoyed sifting through rice to find items. Bradley receives physical, occupational and speech therapy.
“That was his favorite,” she said. “It was really wonderful to see all the kids interacting together.”
Stephanie Peeler said she liked the variations of the different activities Saturday.
“There were some more advanced games and easier ones too,” she said. “It was fun and a good opportunity to get involved in the community.”
Peeler’s family was planning to participate in a fun run later in the day.
Honeycutt said the run is another new tradition that will coincide with the Special Olympics Young Athletes.
“Our goal this year at Partners in Learning is early childhood obesity prevention, so we’re trying to do lots of things to prevent obesity,” she said. “All the activities (Saturday) involved movement.”
Jill Wagoner enjoyed Saturday’s festivities just as much as her son, Cooper.
“It’s great to see so many families in our community come out and participate in an event like this,” she said. “We are so glad we live in a community where Cooper is celebrated and valued for the unique individual that he is.”
Partners In Learning is planning to collaborate with One Step at a Time’s newly formed nonprofit organization Footprints in the Community to host the event next year.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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