Elkhart youth team up with Special Olympians

Students from Elkhart and youth with special needs team up for athletic events together. // WSBT 22 photo

A unique event in Elkhart for younger people with special needs is helping them take part in outdoor athletic events. They got to team up with students who acted as mentors.

The event got under way Monday morning with a parade around the track at Memorial High School. Special-needs students from kindergarten through eighth grade took part in opening ceremonies.

Close to 200 kids from seven elementaries and two middle schools were on hand. The program is a partnership of Special Olympics and local school systems.

"It’s a wonderful event where kids get to be on the same team. They're competing against each other and with each other. This is the beginning of something they call ‘unified athletics,’” said Special Education Supervisor Jennifer Sager.

They took part in a variety of age-appropriate events, bringing students with disabilities and without disabilities together.

“One thing we are trying to help them learn is how to compete and how to be a good team member,” Sager said.

She says it benefits all of the students taking part, the Special Olympians and the students who teamed up with them. They get a chance to learn a little bit about each other and team up for a common goal.

Several eighth graders served as buddies and mentors to special needs kids for the outdoor event.

"It’s really fun. It’s nice to be a part of it. It’s really cool to see how they interact with each other and how we can interact with them,” said eighth-grader Lucy Circosta.

"It’s really fun to come and work with these kids because we can be examples toward them and help them whatever they need to. They'll just remember it always,” said eighth-grader Cameron Wiltfong.

“It’s fun to give them time because you get to learn more about these kids, and they are really cool people, and I am just really excited to help these kids,” said eighth-grader Brooke Watson.

This was the first year for the program in Elkhart Schools. Organizers hope to make it an annual event.

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