The third Special Olympics regional track and field meet brought together the largest group of students yet, beginning with a parade of participants from each school on Monday, May 6 at Porter Stadium.
Mike Vaia, director of special services with the Hannibal Public School District, said Missouri Special Olympics approached the Hannibal Public School District for the first regional event in 2017. The event has been growing ever since, with students attending from eight schools — Clark County R-I, Lillian Shaper School, Marion County R-II, Mississippi Valley State School, Westran Public Schools, Ralls County R-II, Hannibal Public Schools and the Hannibal Hawks from Marion County Services.
Vaia is excited to see the event grow each year, and he said more school districts who missed registration this year plan to attend in 2020. The constant growth has provided more students with the chance to compete and have fun together, and it has also required more community support, he said.
A larger group of student volunteers from Hannibal Middle School and Hannibal High School joined local organizations to make the event successful — Hannibal Evening Kiwanis Club; PepsiCo; Hannibal Rotary Club; Hannibal Knights of Columbus; who led the parade of athletes from each school; and Hannibal Clinic, which had a trainer on site and provided free physicals for participants. Vaia said the athletes enjoy the event each year, and family members and student volunteers are excited about the opportunity as well.
"It's a super, super-positive event," he said. "We're just lucky and happy to be a part of it."
Volunteer Bryce Cummins felt the same way.
"It feels pretty nice, because you get to help other people with something like this. It's not something that you really see everyday, and it's an honor to help with something as big as this," Cummins said. "Even if you don't really do something as meaningful, it still feels good to be a part of it."
Throughout the stadium, activities included 50- and 100-meter races, long jump, and softball throws. At Khalil and Emma laughed as they took turns tossing bean bags into a colorful bucket.
"We're having fun so far because we have hula hoops and beanbags," she said.
Khalil sat down for his favorite activity — zooming around on a flat orange scooter. "These things can take me around the track and back," he said.
Westran student Avalyn received a third-place medal in the 50-meter race. Elizabeth Hess, Chrissy Green and Paraprofessional Kathy Brown accompanied Avalyn, stressing how her performance had improved during her second time at the event.
"She enjoyed it and she had a lot of fun," Hess said.
Zach, a student at Hannibal High School, received a second place medal in the softball toss. He said the event offered a great opportunity for more students in the area to get together for good-natured competition.
"I feel like it's been awesome out here, and I like it, so let's keep it going," he said.