1st Special Olympics is 'great event'

Cary Ashby • May 18, 2019 at 12:00 PM

NEW LONDON — The first Huron County Special Olympics wasn’t just a time to compete. It also was an opportunity to spend time with students from other schools.

Abigail Skolnik, in her first year as an intervention specialist with New London Local Schools, witnessed friends being reunited and other great moments Thursday at the New London Recreation Park football field. 

“We have kids (who) have gone to New London and moved to other schools, so they get to see their friends that they might not have seen in a while too,” the Firelands High School graduate said.

“I think it’s a great event because our kids come out here and they get to have a great, fun day and the whole school came out and supported them. And they also get to have fun, run around and play games.”

Eight schools were invited and students from Christie Lane, New London, South Central and Western Reserve participated.

“(They) felt the program would carry itself because they have a number of special needs students. They really wanted a place to compete in a friendly environment just to build rapport (and) network,” said Maryann Cumberledge, who organized the event with New London director of student services Melissa Vorhies. 

“This event is just a vision that Melissa Vorhies and I had and when I got to my final project for principal licensure at Ashland University, we thought an ideal school improvement project (was) to get a county-level chapter of the Special Olympics,” said Cumberledge, who works with kindergarten through third-grade students as a New London Title I reading teacher. “Everybody has come away with a very positive feeling.”

Students competed in the following events: Softball throw, tennis ball throw, 100-meter and 50-meter dashes, 4 x 50-meter relay, shotput, long jump, 50-meter walk and “push off the tee.” They also participated in elimination games such as corn hole, dice and cup stacking.

“I taught in Richland County prior to Huron County and we have a very active Special Olympics program in that area, so we wanted Huron County to mirror that ability to do that,” Cumberledge said.

The ground work started in September and lasted through April.

“I wrote some grants through the Huron County Mini Grant Foundation. The board of MRDD was really active in getting us started as a chapter,” said Cumberledge, who hopes the event will continue “year after year.”

“Community resources were tapped into; that was a part you had to do (for the project),” she said, referring to Firelands Ambulance Service and the New London Police Department. “Their presence here also shows that the kids’ safety and wellness is a big interest of theirs.”

Sixty volunteers helped the 17 athletes. Some of the assistants were from the New London Teen Leadership Corps class and student council from New London Middle School.

Cumberledge said she was “pretty confident” with the attendance being “a pretty good way to start.”

“Because it was a school-wide project, we have some media students using it as their final project. They are in charge of creating a promotional video for next year so that we can invite other districts in our county,” she added.

“We are now a sanctioned site for Special Olympics events. Being sanctioned means it can sustain itself. As a component of the program, I had to prove it could last after I did the project.” 

Smiles were a common theme of the day, even during the lunch break.

“I know that the kids I have here have loved it; they are having a great time. They’ve enjoyed the throwing events and seeing how far they can throw the balls and stuff,” Skolnik said.