Tuesday was a gloriously beautiful sunny spring day. The morning air fairly crackled with high energy from the athletes ready to compete. Music from the Pleasant Valley High School band, under the direction of Mr. DeVivo, filled the air, putting everyone in a festive mood. It was an auspicious beginning for the 2010 Special Olympics held at Pleasant Valley High School stadium.
Students of all ages from all four school districts in Monroe County participated: PV; Pocono Mt. East; Pocono Mt. West; Stroudsburg; East Stroudsburg North; East Stroudsburg South. There were over 400 athletes that competed and they were accompanied by about 500 "PV buddies," students and staff who guided each athlete to their events and assisted them where needed, and 150 event helpers. They were met by PV Special Olympians and their buddies holding a welcome banner which was created by PVHS teacher Karen Fuls.
Mr. Rick Agretto, the IU 20 event director welcomed everyone, from Special Olympians, buddies, staff, parents and visitors. PVHS Special Olympians Jeff Lopes, Bryan Villarroel and PVMS Special Olympian Austin Burham led the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of the PVHS chorus, directed by Lois Mann, sang the "National Anthem."
Chris Fisher, assistant to the superintendent, welcomed the athletes and told them "Today is your day."
PVHS Special Olympians Heather DeJong, Robert Cohen and Travaite Sanders recited two Special Olympics poems.
The atmosphere became highly charged as PVHS Special Olympians made the trek across the field to light the torch. The torch was carried by Kim Konschietz, Kaitlyn Shaneberger, Maurice Bush and Gerald Iovino. It was PVMS Special Olympians Luis Vazquez and Ania Janiec who carried it last and lit the torch.
PVHS Special Olympian Nicole Parra declared the games to be open.
Special Olympians and their buddies scrambled to find their various designated track and field events, ranging from 50 meter dashes, throwing softballs, to wheelchair races.
PVHS event helpers guided each Special Olympian in the various activities.
Rich Burger, a senior, said he participated because he wanted to make the athletes happy.
Samantha Cunningham, a senior, volunteered because she wanted to "make a difference in their day to day life."
"Everyone deserves a chance to be happy and have fun. I wanted to help out to do that for them," said senior Anthony Quaranto.
Nick Visconti, a PV junior said, "Everybody needs a shot at doing something and this is a good opportunity for these kids to show what they can do."
The idea of the Special Olympics, which began in 1968, is to give to those with special needs an opportunity to show the world they can succeed and it is a chance to reach one's potential with dignity and acceptance. And to have fun.
That's what Barbara Calabro told her 9-year-old son, Justin, before he left for school that morning.
"It's his first Special Olympics and he was so excited. I told him that I don't care if you win or lose as long as you have fun," she said.
It brought tears to her eyes when she learned that his PVE second grade teacher, Mrs. Hauze and all his classmates would be there to cheer for him.
"We made T-shirts with his name on them and signs to support him. He's a great kid. He's the most fun-loving enthusiastic and happy student that you'll ever want to meet. We're here to cheer him on," said Mrs. Hauze.
As Justin prepared for the 50 meter dash, his classmates, all in red T-shirts and holding signs with his name and yelling excitedly, Justin ran his heart out and won second place. His face was wreathed in smiles as he received his ribbon.
That smile was repeated many times over in every event throughout the day.
It's one of the reasons why the Special Olympics is very special.