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Student athletes compete at annual Special Olympics Track and Field Day

GUELPH – Parents, teachers and children cheered from the sidelines while athletes sprinted down a track, tossed balls into nets, and swung baseball bats at a Special Olympics Track and Field Day in Guelph.

Thousands of people filled fields at St. James Catholic High School on May 15 for the annual event’s 20th anniversary.

Competitors included over 800 student athletes from 76 elementary and high schools across the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic District School Boards.

The Special Olympics event began with a parade around the track, led by piper Peter Hummel and a John Galt Public School student carrying an Olympic torch.

Piper Peter Hummel led Special Olympics Track and Field Day athletes in a parade around the track to kick off the annual event at St. James Catholic High School on May 15. Photos by Robin George

 

Athletes then gathered on the running track’s centre field for short speeches from officials, including directors of education Peter Sovran and Michael Glazier, and a performance of the national anthem from St. John (Guelph) Catholic School students, in both English and sign language.

Sovran said every year when he wakes up on the morning of the Special Olympics event, he looks out the window and hopes for perfect weather — and this year they got it.

It was a dry, grey day. Athletes were protected by clouds from the sun’s heat, but participants’ bright attitudes weren’t dampened.

Special Olympics Ontario CEO Glenn MacDonell reflected back to 20 years ago, when Sonja Holmes and Steve Redmond, original members of the local Special Olympics Track and Field Day committee, asked him for a $5,000 grant to launch the event.

It’s crystal clear now, decades later, that the grant was a great investment, MacDonell said.

Holmes and Redmond attended the May 15 event as honorary marshals.

The Godfrey Pigeon Club released a flock of pigeons to kick off the Special Olympics Track and Field Day at St. James Catholic High School on May 15.

 

A flock of pigeons released over the school grounds, courtesy of the Godfrey Pigeon Club, marked the beginning of the games.

Aberfoyle Public School Grade 1 student Atticus Sarracini attended the Track and Field Day with his dad, Michael Sarracini.

Atticus gleefully told the Advertiser he was excited to be at “the Olympics” and to race in a 50-metre sprint.

Michael said he felt very grateful for all the volunteers who made the day a success.

“It’s a massive operation that takes a lot of work,” he said.

Matteo Di Cintio, a Grade 5 student at St. Joseph Catholic School in Fergus, told the Advertiser it was his first time attending the Special Olympics: “I am excited to do everything!”

He signed up for the running long jump, softball throw, and a 100-metre race — his favourite.

Grade 5 Fergus St. Joseph Catholic School student Matteo DiCintio bubbled with excitement about attending his first Special Olympics Track and Field Day.

Minto-Clifford Public School Grade 8 student Emma Clemmer competed in basketball, t-ball, and pop bottle bowling.

Clemmer’s grandmother and Palmerston resident Mary-Anne Froebe was among her supporters. Froebe attends the Special Olympics event each year.

“I just love it; it’s the kids, watching them smiling,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

But mostly, Froebe comes to see her granddaughter.

“Emma is just such a happy child,” Froebe said.

She swung a bat so enthusiastically during a t-ball event, the batting tee (and ball) were sent flying — twice.

She threw her hands into the air in celebration, her happiness on full display.

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