Third annual Special Olympics are here

KHS Olympians pose with Dr. Michael Havener and Mike Wade after receiving their gold medals for the bowling event of the Special Olympics, which took place Friday, Jan. 24. Olympians include Joe Mack, Tom Welz Chase Burnside, Ann Glosson, Jason Moore, Luke Vatterott, Maguerite Justin, Ryan Matthes, Megan Appelbaum, Caleb Daniel, Samantha McCoy, Joseph McKinnon, Evan Davies-Sigmund, and Matt Monette.

Photo courtesy of Kirkwood School District

KHS Olympians pose with Dr. Michael Havener and Mike Wade after receiving their gold medals for the bowling event of the Special Olympics, which took place Friday, Jan. 24. Olympians include Joe Mack, Tom Welz Chase Burnside, Ann Glosson, Jason Moore, Luke Vatterott, Maguerite Justin, Ryan Matthes, Megan Appelbaum, Caleb Daniel, Samantha McCoy, Joseph McKinnon, Evan Davies-Sigmund, and Matt Monette.

According to Michael Havener, principal, one of the best days of the year is coming up. Approximately 250 athletes from 41 teams across the St. Louis area will come to KHS to compete in the Special Olympics Feb. 26. For the third year, KHS is the home to the basketball portion of the games.

Abby Peterson, counselor, said Special Olympics officials came to KHS three years ago, looking to expand the number of high schools involved in hosting because the number of participants was increasing, and they thought Kirkwood was up for the task. She said the demand is still increasing as Oakville High School has just been added to host as well.

While schools from St. Louis participate, the Special Olympics is not confined to the area. According to the Special Olympics website, 4 million athletes participate worldwide, and 16 thousand athletes participate in Missouri alone. Although Peterson likes that more athletes are participating, what she loves about the Special Olympics is the lasting impact on the lives of those involved.

“It’s just a great chance for all of [the athletes] to be included and to feel like celebrities for a day,” Peterson said. “It’s an amazing experience.”

According to Peterson, athletes enjoy the events and they can be pretty competitive, and she loves seeing how excited and happy they are when they receive a gold medal. Havener agrees, saying the Special Olympics is a great day for all involved: athletes and student volunteers. Every year, juniors and seniors have the opportunity to be a “buddy”, which involves pairing up with an athlete to accompany them through the events, eating lunch with them and playing some games in the “victory village” in between events. Havener thinks volunteering in the Special Olympics is a highlight of the year for students. Havener and Peterson agree the Special Olympics are a wonderful way to volunteer and gain a new perspective, one that student volunteers will talk about for the rest of their lives.

“To be next to somebody who has to walk in different shoes than you can mean a lot,” Peterson said. “It helps you to see the world through somebody who may not be as fortunate as you.”

Alex Bess, senior, enjoyed being a “buddy” for the Special Olympics last year because it gave her the chance to to meet new people and help. She liked working with a 6 year old last year and she looks forward to making another athlete’s day this year. Although they didn’t compete in the actual events, she says they had a great time playing mini games and winning prizes and balloon animals, similar to a fair.

“I think anyone who even considers trying [the Special Olympics] should do it,” Bess said. “It’s such a fun experience.”

From the Welcoming Ceremony to the Closing Ceremony where every athlete receives a medal, Havener and Peterson said the Special Olympics are an event like no other, allowing athletes to compete for their school and students to learn a little about themselves. Peterson said she wishes the event could happen more than once a year, though they take nearly a year to prepare for.

“It’s amazing to see how happy the athletes are, how much they get into competing, and how much joy they feel when they get those medals,” Peterson said. “We can all just be the same on that one day.”