What began as a missed opportunity for local Special Olympics athletes turned into a blessing for not only them but their coaches as well as volunteers from a neighboring school district.
For the past decade, Morehouse Parish has sent a team to the Special Olympics regional track meet. Unfortunately, the date set for this year's event was a day when students would not be attending school. While at the regional bowling event, Sterlington High School teacher Carolyn Sharp learned that Morehouse would not be able to attend the track meet. Sharp shared her disappointment that the athletes would not be attending with SHS Assistant Principal of Curriculum Marty Bumgart, who then offered to host a Track and Field Day for all Morehouse Parish athletes. Over the following weeks, teachers and staff members Pattrice Reppond, Lori Bruscato, Bumgart, Sharp and others worked diligently and put together a Track and Field Day that will forever be remembered by the Morehouse Parish athletes and staff.
The day of the event, April 25, began with an opening ceremony and introductions. Students then competed in the events in which they had traditionally competed in at the regional meet. Events included races with assistive devices, dashes, walks and runs as well as field events. Each athlete received a ribbon for their participation.
Following the events, the athletes were given a treat cup filled with reminders of the day and snacks. The Sterlington group then played familiar songs and had a dance for the athletes on the football field. Morehouse Parish had around 140 athletes participating and Sterlington had over 100 student volunteers.
“Sterlington did not have to do this for our parish, but they chose to do this because of their love and concern for our special athletes, Leslye Barnes said. "They went above and beyond during an extremely busy time in the school year. Their act of kindness touched our hearts."
In past years, SHS has always had a very large group of student volunteers to help with all Special Olympic functions. Morehouse Parish has the largest contingent of athletes, and Sterlington has always paired up with the Morehouse group to provide “peer buddies” to assist students between their events.
Barnes, an occupational therapist on staff with the Morehouse Parish School System, had worked with Special Olympics in Texas and was sold on the program. She could see the benefits both physically and socially for the athletes, so she started coordinating the program to include all qualifying athletes within the parish.
"With the support of the school system, local law enforcement agencies and D & H Sports, these students have had the opportunities of competition in track and field and bowling against area athletes while wearing proudly their uniform t-shirts and being part of a team," Barnes said. "Many students start asking as soon as school starts, 'When are we doing Special Olympics?'"