Students compete in Special Olympics events at Souderton Area, Hatboro-Horsham high schools

Wissahickon student Michael DiDomenko sprints toward the finish line during the 50-yard dash at Hatboro-Horsham High School’s inaugural Special Olympics track meet May 23, 2016. Gene Walsh — Digital First Media

FRANCONIA >> “Today is their day entirely,” Souderton Area High School senior Kyle Wetzler said as worked as a volunteer during the school’s fifth annual Special Olympics games Monday.

Due to the growing number of participants over the past few years, this year’s games were split between Hatboro-Horsham and Souderton Area high schools, with Hatboro-Horsham hosting for the first time.

Lynne Stauffer, life skills teacher and coordinator for Special Olympics at Souderton, said the games were too big to manage at one site. She estimated more than 300 athletes participated at Souderton, along with 425 volunteers, and 200 athletes participated at Hatboro-Horsham. The athletes range in age from 8 to 21.

Souderton hosted a variety of districts, including North Penn, Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley, Norristown, Pennridge, Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Upper Perk, Methacton and Souderton. Meanwhile, students from districts including Abington, Cheltenham, Colonial, Lower Moreland, Springfield, Upper Dublin, Upper Moreland and Wissahickon competed at Hatboro-Horsham.

The Special Olympics is a day filled with fun and competitive games for students with special needs. The entire community has an opportunity to be involved. Local businesses make donations to fund the event. Students volunteers their time as event runners, buddies or ambassadors.

“I’ve really seen a lot of leadership from our student volunteers. I’ve seen a lot of friendships developed between our athletes and our student volunteers,” said Stauffer.

Competitors are offered practice days leading up to the competition. The students have the opportunity to participate in the hit and release; 200-, 25- or 50-meter races; tennis ball throw; standing long jump; softball throw; 25-meter wheelchair run; and the 30-meter wheelchair slalom.

“[The Special Olympics] helps you to get a more full picture of our school and our community. Our special education department is so dedicated,” said Wetzler. “It helps to put things in perspective. It helps people realize what they have and feel fortunate for their abilities, as well as celebrate [the Special Olympians’] abilities.”

Nine-year-old athlete James responded with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” when asked if he had fun.

“I really like how every kid feels celebrated,” student and volunteer Lydia Villalba said. “They’re all so proud of their accomplishments and they don’t get that every day. It’s cool to be a part of the spread of positivity.”

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