A day in the life as my Leadership class hosts the annual Special Olympics sports event
The closing of Spirit Week meant that there would be a drought in the school’s festivities until Winter Week, but little did I know (or remember) that our school and Leadership class hosts the annual Special Olympics event inviting special-ed classes from schools all over the district and neighboring districts for a day of soccer tournaments, music, and performances from the band.
The morning of the event included our Leadership class gradually gathering early before school. Some of us walked in with our blue Eagle Nation shirts while finishing the last bits of our rushed breakfasts and hung the last of the signs to guide the visiting schools in the gym. At this point, the students that were on their way were merely school names to me. I had yet to meet them and from what I knew, I would not need to know them other than by their schools.
This year, I had the opportunity to expand my involvement in the annual Special Olympics and ditch my role as a cheering spectator. I took on a responsibility of making posters and hosting a designated school throughout the day. I entered the world of hosting the event knowing that I would be guiding the Special Education classes but unaware that my perspective about the faces behind the Special Olympic games would be forever changed. Hosting a school provided me the opportunity to develop relationships with the friendly faces I interacted with throughout the day.
The poster we had been working on preceding the event gracefully hung in the back of the gym with the band assembled framing the backdrop as we began to make our way to greet the schools and welcome their school spirit gear along with their mascots. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a young boy hopping off the steps of the Cesar Chavez Middle School bus already chatting to us as our class awaited in the back parking lot greeting the schools with our own cheers.
Hannibal Brannon, a young boy from Cesar Chavez Middle School was the first, and most enthusiastic student I met in the day. As I started guiding the participants to the gym, some students looked puzzled as they scanned the campus they’ve never visited before, while Brannon and a few others confidently made their way to the gym—knowing the routine for the day. We easily struck up a conversation as he began to tell me the routine for the day as I introduced myself to their school.
“The posters are going to have our mascots on them!” Hannibal shared with me as our conversation spanned from discussing the mascots to his sports interests. “To be honest I’m not as good in soccer as I am in basketball, but I like to play anyway.”
As I was introducing myself to her at the beginning of the day, she shyly told me her name, “Abigail” and that her favorite food was pizza. Abigail from Cesar Chavez was memorable to me when she went from a shy beautiful little girl hiding in her big sweatshirt with her hair falling on her face to cracking jokes and excitedly cheering with me for her friends on the field later that day.
While cheering for Cesar Chavez with Abigail on the field, a little girl with her two pigtails casually strolled along the sidelines amidst all of the hectic events going on around her. She eventually made her way over to her brother who was cheering with his mother for his school. That was when I met Ali.
Ali Moqeam from Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School had just returned from the wheelchair designated soccer matches to cheer on his friends in the IVC vs. Thornton Junior High match. Though I had not interacted with Ali throughout the day, the moment that most resonated with me had to be his interaction with his younger sister.
Among all of the other participants playing for IVC, it was noticeable that the middle school team was missing a player on the field. Naturally, I felt bad that he would have been unable to interact with his friends during the games being restricted by his wheelchair. But the team had an additional cheerleader as Ali supported his friends on the field while his little sister grabbed at his hands struggling to climb up to sit on his lap. The moment was topped when our school’s Eagle mascot made its way to our field and attracted all of the students playing. Ali and his sister had been giggling while hugging the mascot as they posed for a picture.
“He’s so furry!” they exclaimed.
When I was picking up the soccer balls and stacking tables after the event, I reflected on the friendships I had developed with the different students I encountered. I began to see them as their individual selves: Hannibal and his zeal, the kind Ali and his adorable little sister, and Abigail with her beautiful—though sometimes shy—smiles.
I later saw beyond my own sense of pride for working towards a noble cause, as the individuals I met began to mean more to me as I got to know them better by the end of the morning and as they made their way back onto the yellow school buses with their ribbons worn around them