Showing true strength
Pierson Schnitchen sings the national anthem during opening ceremonies for the District School Board of Niagara’s 17th annual Special Olympics.
Tuesday was one of Pierson Schnitchen’s favourite days of the year.
The Garrison Road student spent the day at Welland Centennial taking part in the District School Board of Niagara’s 17th annual Special Olympics.
“It is an exciting day. It is good for me because I get to see people who are like me and I get to see them come together and show what our true strengths are,” the 13-year-old Fort Erie resident said.
Pierson has been to several of the Special Olympics events in previous years and he always has a blast.
“I like everything about this meet. It is seeing people compete and showing all the struggles and how we say it is OK. I am beautiful just the way I am and I can compete just as well as anyone else.”
He usually takes part in a number of the events during the day but prefers events like the softball toss.
“I do like racing but I really like showing off my strength.”
An added bonus for Pierson Tuesday was a chance to sing the national anthem for the first time at the opening ceremonies. He did an impressive job with the anthem and showed absolutely no nerves.
“Once I got started, I didn’t actually feel anything. I felt very calm.”
It was a proud moment for him.
“It was very honourable. I felt honoured.”
There was lots of practice leading up to the day.
“My poppa, Tim Denis, helped me yesterday.”
Once his singing duties were over, Pierson was ready to tackle the rest of the day.
“I am looking forward to seeing all the people and all the Special Needs people and hug them. This proves that they and I can do anything too.”
Tuesday’s Special Olympics meet was the largest-ever event hosted by the DSBN. A record 1,000-plus athletes and 85 schools took part in the event. Previous highs were 850 students and 80 schools set in 2022. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the highs were 65 schools and 700 athletes.
“It is just amazing,” said Andy Dermatas, the DSBN’s Special Olympics coordinator.
He attributes the increases to word of mouth.
“Everybody just looks forward to this event. We hear all the time that this is the best day of the year. Of course, I am biased but the word is out and we welcome all students from all schools and we have definitely got that participation.”
Dermatas likes where the meet is at in its history.
“I think we have made it. We are there and every year we exceed our expectations and it is because of all the DSBN support and all the amazing people who spread the word and support us through the entire event; the set-up and when the event goes on as well.”
More than 100 DSBN staffers and others volunteer to make the event run so smoothly.
“One reason why this is so incredible is that DSBN staff are all running the events,” Dermatas said. “They shut down a lot of departments within the board office and they are all here lending a hand and making sure that the students succeed.”
Events staged include: including sprints; bean bag toss; softball toss; Nerf javelin throw; long jump; Frisbee throw; and, standing long jump.
The meet has been used a few times as a qualifier for provincial Special Olympics meets but organizers have backed away from that to focus on what they feel is important.
“We are still closely tied to Special Olympics Ontario but we found that this event offers a chance for all students to come in, participate and shine,” 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.