Special Olympics held at Belvedere Elementary, celebrates young students

Apr. 27—Red, white and blue with large amounts of spirit was found inside the halls of Belvedere Elementary school on April 14. Special Olympics athletes from Belvedere, Mossy Creek and North Augusta elementary schools came together for a day of celebration and athletic activities.

"Our students work really hard all year and this is a day that we get to celebrate them and their achievements, but it's also a day that they get to have fun. They get to take a break from work, do some fun activities, and a lot of our students have been practicing for these events and they get to have these competitions and really just enjoy spending some time with each other," Beth Taylor, interim director of special programs for Aiken County Public Schools said. "It's also an opportunity for them to get to meet students from other schools that they may not typically get to spend some time with."

A larger scale annual Special Olympics event for students within Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties is usually held at Midland Valley in mid-April and was canceled earlier in the week due to impending weather.

Belvedere Principal Allyson Long, Reading Specialist Teacher Heather Schuler and other teachers came together to make something work last minute with a variety of athletic events, an opening ceremony and silent parade complete with handmade signs.

"As soon as we got that email, we were like, 'OK what can we do?,' and we jumped right on it," Schuler said.

She said it means the world to her to see the support from the administration, teachers and students.

"Even though we had a hiccup and we couldn't do it like we normally do it, we can still participate, and the kids are going to remember this and it is going to be a memory that they are going to have forever, and a memory all of us at Belvedere are going to have forever as well," she said.

Long said the event is one of her favorite days of the year.

"It's a day that we get to showcase students that don't often get a chance to participate in recreational baseball or softball or soccer," Long said. "The idea of not doing it would have been heartbreaking, so I am glad that we can pull this off. I am just thankful to our school team for putting it together."

Teachers and parents alike were happy to give these kids an opportunity to be highlighted within their schools and celebrated.

"I just think it's awesome that not just Belvedere, but that all of our schools are taking ownership and ensuring our special athletes have a day and an opportunity to get to have this moment where they can be celebrated and get to compete and get to have some fun," Taylor said. "The Special Olympics committee made sure that they still had access to their snacks and still had access to their food and just the support to be able to pull this off in each of their individual schools."

"I think it is more important for the other kids than it is for them because they did the silent parade today," Victoria Albritton said. "They get to see that it's different, and they get to see their classmates supporting them."

"I am a parent of a son with autism, Hampton, who is a senior at South Aiken High School. This means the world to be able to bring our kids together and this is something they get to look forward to every year and that chance to be them, to show their skills and to have a great time and to interact with each other," Schuler said. "Our children who might have different behaviors ... are growing up to be as independent as possible in our world, and all kids, no matter what their abilities are need to be given that opportunity for the community to see how we bring together is how we shine and talk about and how we want people to be here."

Samantha Winn covers the cities of North Augusta and Augusta, with a focus on community oriented business and events. Follow her on Twitter: @samanthamwinn and on Facebook and Instagram: @swinnnews.