Saturday, November 7, 2015

Special Olympics: Passing the Torch to the Happiest Place on Earth

 Smiles, sneakers, color coordinated t-shirt, cheers, flapping, dancing, hugs, singing, anticipation, pure joy, pride. The chill is in the air. Happy people are everywhere. Confidence is shown in the smiles on everyone's face. There's not a moment of doubt.  Hearts are filled with the anticipation of success. Everyone's a winner tonight. Everyone from the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, athletes, aides, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, entertainers, politicians, fans, my son, my students, my colleagues, and me!
     Where am I you ask? The New York State Special Olympics opening ceremonies at the Glens Falls Civic Center. What a night! A huge stadium filled with fans carrying homemade posters. The floor filled with empty folding chairs waiting for the enthusiastic athletes to arrive. A stage decorated with colorful flags and banners, giant screens for video footage, and a grand torch unlit.

    Months of planning went into this big Special Olympic weekend. My small class of six was contacted last spring to head up the Special Olympic Icon Sales for the Whitehall, New York. My students take every task seriously. We watched a documentary on our smart board to see what special olympics is all about. My kids wanted to help our New York athletes. We made a bulletin board to support our friends and to advertise our icon sales.

    As always, our small school supported our efforts. Our hearts were made bigger from the generosity of the students, faculty, and community of the Whitehall Central School District. One tiny student who barely spoke three years ago became our Special Olympic Icon sale leader! She eagerly spoke over the loudspeaker during morning announcements to announce our sales. She bravely approached our new Principal and other faculty members for their help. She sat day in and day out at our icon sales table! She became our Special Olympic hero! That's the great thing about Special Olympics: we all become a little braver, a little more out-going, and win or lose, we are all winners. Then again, Special Olympics is all about heart.
     My first experience with Special Olympics was in Pennsylvania at the Devereux Foundation back in the 1980's. I helped to train athletes and went with them to their games. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Seeing my students, train, compete, and then win  olympic medals just brought tears to my eyes. Seeing them stand on the podium with the National Anthem playing and pride in their face and stance was truly priceless. 
   On October 16th my thoughts were with my former Devereux students, my current Whitehall students, our generous benefactors, and with my son Nate who was anticipating his very first Special Olympic games with me, as a fan. Tonight I was passing the torch to my son enlightening his heart with love for the Special Olympic games!
  Finally, it was time for the ceremonies to begin. Bagpipes were played.  Special Olympic athletes entered behind colorful banners representing each team. They waved and smiled to the crowds of fans. My son declared, "Mom this is the happiest place on earth. Thank you for bring me." It truly was the happiest place on earth. We listened an angel sing: Amber Macintosh sang the National Anthem, she herself is a Special Olympic Athlete. What an incredible voice! We listened to Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Stec, along with other dignitaries speak to the athletes. We watched several dance and singing routines to honor the athletes. Then finally the torch run with police officers and correction officers. The torch was lit! The announcement "Let the Games Begin".  The Special Olympic torch had been passed making the Glens Falls Civic Center filled with love for the Special Olympics the happiest place on earth!

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