With Olympic-themed music cued up and the student audience members cheering, the athletes entered the arena of competition.
In a sporting event oozing innocence and effort, three Killeen Independent School District elementary schools embraced the Young Athletes Future Stars Program.
At Mountain View Elementary School, seven Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities students took part in the opening ceremony, a series of physical challenges and a ribbon ceremony. Brookhaven and Fowler Elementary schools also took part.
It was a preview of what the 2- to 7-year-old students can expect if they pursue Special Olympics, which begins at age 8.
At Mountain View, the six participants handed off a paper torch while music played and students cheered.
With help from fifth-grade buddies and school and district special education staff, the children took part in stations throwing, kicking and hitting balls, crawling through a tunnel and other physical challenges.
Jennifer Byse, PPCD teacher at Mountain View, said her students’ moment in the spotlight was powerful for multiple reasons.
“You may not think about catching and kicking a ball as a developmental milestone, but it is,” she said. “Being able to do these skills opens doors to a community.”
Learning the ingredients of sports participation means the students are on their way to the possibility of competing in Special Olympics and in adaptive sports such as the Super Hero Sports Program available through Harker Heights Parks and Recreation.
Beyond the learning is the power of acceptance.
“It’s about development and intersection with the whole school,” Byse said, pointing out that every grade level at Mountain View was represented cheering the students, as well as campus and district administrators.
“Our whole school is out here to support six kids. That is powerful,” Byse said. “The biggest payoff is acceptance from peers.”
At Fowler Elementary School, eight preschool students took part in the Olympics skills preview as parents and students from various classes cheered them on.
“It gives each child a chance to shine,” said Fowler PPCD teacher Chelsea Towler. “It also shows the parents what they are capable of that they might not see at home.”
Pointing out the fifth-graders volunteering to help lead the young athletes around, Byse said those students would go to high school one day and hopefully have a tender acceptance toward special needs students.
Two current Harker Heights High School students involved in Special Olympics greeted the young Mountain View students and encouraged them to pursue sports.
Danielle Jimenez and Jourdan Stewart recently qualified for the Special Olympics Texas Summer Games on May 23. A 14-member team from Killeen ISD will participate.
Emily Jimenez, Danielle’s mother and a Special Olympics coach, said the sports programs at the elementary schools pay huge dividends for students.
Of her own daughter, who won a gold medal in shot put and will compete at the state level, she said, “It’s been huge for her,” explaining that it took her four years of competing to achieve her gold performance.
“They get a sense of sports and get to be just like the other kids,” Jimenez said. “For these children their class is their team. For them to hear these other kids cheering them on, it makes me want to cry.”
“These students don’t get to integrate into regular education much,” said Towler. “Here they hear the students cheering for them and it makes them clap and jump up. They are not shy at all.”