PHOENIX, NY – All ten Oswego County school districts were well represented in the second annual Oswego County Olympiad, giving nearly 400 special education students the chance to compete athletically in a wide variety of events.
This year’s student athletes arrived at Phoenix High School where they excitedly got off their buses to crowds of family, friends, teachers, fellow students and school mascots awaiting their arrival, lined up to escort them to the competition field.
Each bus unloaded one at a time with nearly 100 students more than last year, but the crowd never lessened and the excitement only grew.
Students were welcomed off their buses to the musical styling of Joanna Young, a Phoenix High School teacher playing the bagpipes while Phoenix High School National Honor Society Students crowded the walkway to enthusiastically welcome all students with a sign for the school they represented and endless cheers and high fives.
They walked the pathway to the field lined by Phoenix High School band members playing triumphant tunes to energize the athletes as they prepared to compete.
Once they arrived at the field, all ten districts lined in alphabetical order to parade around the track and announce the school district they were proudly displaying on their t-shirts.
“I think the entrance parade is my favorite part,” said Phoenix School District Superintendent, Judy Belfield. “Seeing all the students so excited, their faces light up as the crowd, their parents, teachers and even the mascots cheer them on. Just watching everyone be so supportive, it’s truly amazing.”
This year’s entry parade was led by Greg Callen, who then introduced the event with Assemblyman Will Barclay after Phoenix student, Abby Meaker pridefully sang the national anthem.
“I’m so impressed with how many people are here today. I often say and do believe, competition does raise the human spirit. This is truly amazing, so I would like to thank all the volunteers that make this possible and Phoenix school district for hosting this event,” said Assemblyman Barclay, before turning the introduction over to Callen.
Callen, a man confined to a wheelchair after a tragic accident, established the local organization Move Along, Inc. with a mission “to assist individuals of all ages with disabilities the opportunity to be engaged with recreational activities and gain life skills and adapt to their conditions,” as according to the organization’s website.
Prideful in his organization’s ability to provide athletic opportunities and the life lessons brought about from such, Callen inspired the crowd and the athletes as they prepared to perform.
“I’m so impressed by the work ethic of not only this district but each and every district that has enabled their individuals and student athletes to be out here today. It says a lot about the integrity of what you’re trying to build for our communities and it says a lot about what you’re trying to build for these individuals and a great quality of life,” said Callen.
Callen explained how he transferred the life skills he got from competing in athletics before his accident to all aspects of life and encouraged the kids to continue to persevere as well as to seek and utilize the resources available to them to find their way in life.
“When you don’t succeed at first at your goal, I want you to know there is a different resource for you to find to migrate that path to success,” he said. “Thank you once again for everyone here that made this possible, this is amazing!”
And with that, the Olympiad emcee, John Dalgety Phoenix middle school teacher happily kicked off the day’s events.
Student athletes of all ages, developmental and physical abilities competed in a wide variety of events including track events such as the 50m and 100m dash, jumping events such as long jump and standing jump, field events such as shot-put, football and softball toss, Kan-Jam, parachute games and adapted events such as wheelchair races, hand bikes, wheelchair basketball and sled hockey.
New to this years event, Move Along Inc. provided the hand bikes, wheelchairs for basketball and sled hockey equipment that students confined to wheelchairs were able to use most of them for the first time ever, and for all students to understand and exemplify recreational activities without the use of your legs.
A nine-year-old student from Phoenix School District, Logan was able to be moved from his wheelchair to a hand bike, where he could ride a bike utilizing only his hands for the first time ever.
“That was really nice, it was pretty easy to use!” said Logan, whose teacher said he maneuvered the bike with such ease it was like he had been doing it for years.
All students that participated in track and field events were given ribbons after each event along with infinite amounts of praise and encouragement.
Another student athlete, fourth grader Parker Kohlback from Sandy Creek found the most enjoyment from the field events such as Kan-Jam, softball and football toss and trying the hand bikes.
“I like Kan-Jam and the softball toss the most because they’re not very competitive. Kan-Jam is a teamwork kind of sport and the softball toss is more about challenging ourselves to throw farther every time,” said Parker.
The students were provided free donuts as donated by Bryne Dairy, free water and Gatorade as donated by Pepsi, free lunch as provided by the Phoenix Sports Boosters, and free ice cream as donated by Perry’s Ice Cream, along with free face painting and free snow cones among other treats and entertainment.
“The sponsors, donations and support from the community has only grown since last year. There’s just as much fun as last year if not more on another just absolutely beautiful day!” said Superintendent Belfield.
“It’s just getting bigger and better every year,” said Phoenix School District Director of Special Education, Kathie Palladino. “The energy level is incredible, and I love that there is an equal playing field for all of our kids to just shine.”
Still, much like the first year, National Honor Society students and Phoenix school district staff from all grade levels volunteered their time to help every aspect of the day’s events.
“I love that these National Honor Society students are able to do this. It’s nice to get our high school students out here, and they do such a great job. Even some of the teacher’s from school today have brought their classes out just to cheer the kids on and it’s nice for all the students to have the opportunity to see that not everyone is the same, and that’s okay,” said a Phoenix school district teacher’s aide, Katha Halstead.
Families were able and welcomed to attend the event to support and help cheer on their student athlete participating in the day’s events.
“This is amazing, I just love watching everyone compete,” said Alizabeth Lamb, mother to Aiyana Lamb from Oswego school district who was participating in her first ever Olympiad in the 50m race, softball throw and shot put events.
Her father, Brandon Lamb, agreed while wearing a shirt made in support of his daughter with pride, “The amount of support there is here for these kids is incredible,” he said.
Another family from Central Square said they have found a new tradition after their kindergartner’s first time participating in the Olympiad.
“Everyone is included and it is so much fun, all the kids are having such a blast. It’s all positive attitudes and so much support for everyone,” said Jane Kullison.
“It’s not often that we get all special education kids together to connect and participate, and to watch this connection is incredible. Special education is such a specialized field in and of itself, and it’s constantly being surrounded by people who give their heart and soul daily, who want the best for our kids and provide that in a loving environment, and today is such a shining example of that,” said Phoenix Special Education Director, Palladino.
The event concluded with hundreds of ribbons awarded to happy, empowered student athletes already aiming to tackle the event’s at next year’s third annual Oswego County Olympiad.