A special day indeed
High five and smiles were contagious Friday as the District School of Niagara’s Special Olympics meet returned after a two-year COVID-related absence.
Following two years of virtual activities, a record 700-plus athletes from a record 78 elementary and secondary schools descended on Welland Centennial for an exciting day of activities including sprints, bean bag toss, softball toss, Nerf javelin throw, long jump and standing long jump.
“The most schools we have ever had before was 65 and the most athletes we ever had was about 700,” said Andy Dermatas, the DSBN’s Special Olympics coordinator and the co-founder of the event along with Bryn Keyes. “I attribute that (increase) to amazing people and it speaks mountains about the support we have from the DSBN staff.”
The event was supposed to be held Thursday but it was moved to Friday over concerns about weather conditions.
“We didn’t know what would happen with the bussing because of all the challenges people would be facing to get them here today,” he said. “I look around and I can tell you how amazing it is. It is all because of them.”
Dermatas was thrilled to see the event back.
“I didn’t know if I was even going to make it through the Opening Ceremonies. It is a pretty emotional day and I can’t tell you how excited I am and it is because of these kids. It is their smiles that drive us and it is their smiles that are the reason why we do what we do.”
His favourite parts of the day are watching the parade of athletes, the kids when they are presented with ribbons and DSBN staff members when they high five their students for a job well done.
“Oh my goodness. I could go on and on,” he said, with a laugh.
To make the 16th annual event run smoothly, hundreds of volunteers turned out to make it a reality. There is never an issue finding people to help out.
“The only problem I have is figuring where to put everyone. It is the best problem in the world to have,” Dermatas said.
There is a 12-person committee that works year-round to plan the event and its work for next year will begin shortly.
“We really dig in right after Christmastime.”
This year’s meet was different in a number of ways. The biggest change was making it a carnival style format where athletes could walk up and try any event they wanted. Events and races could be done multiple times.
“We had a competitive side where athletes could compete on the competitive side and quality for Games but because of the time off, we took a little step back this year so we could make sure we were focusing on the students today who are ready to shine.”
The committee will discuss whether to bring back the competitive events in future years. Dermatas is excited about the future of the event.
“Every year I think we have reached the highest potential that we can reach for this event and every year some new tweak happens to make it even better.”
Michael St. John, the DSBN’s superintendent special education, mental health and well being, brought greetings on behalf of the DSBN.
“What an amazing opportunity we have to celebrate the many talented, motivated and dedicated students today with one of our favourite events of the year,” he said. “We have missed it and we have missed all of you. It is clear by visiting with a number of students this morning they are prepared to give all they have to do their very best and to have fun. It is truly inspiring to get to watch them compete but at the same time finding joy in the challenge of new opportunities. What a great day to be at and make new friends. Student-athletes we cam all learn from your enthusiastic spirit. Today is about you and we are here to watch you shine.”