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Special Olympics event challenges students with disabilities

Annual Challenge Day is one 'big day to shine' for Margaret Brent Regional students

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Photo by Alexis A. Goring. Cheerleaders pep up the crowd with their choreographed cheers before the games begin Thursday, March 21, at Margaret Brent Regional School in New Carrollton. Challenge Day is an annual Special Olympics event.

Photo by Alexis A. Goring. Cheerleaders pep up the crowd with their choreographed cheers before the games begin Thursday, March 21, at Margaret Brent Regional School in New Carrollton. Challenge Day is an annual Special Olympics event.

Published on: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

The score to the opening scene of “Chariots of Fire” blared through the speakers inside the Margaret Brent Regional School gymnasium last Thursday as student-athletes participated in the opening ceremonies of Challenge Day 2013, a Special Olympics event.

“The purpose of Special Olympics is to allow students with disabilities to be able to grow and train and really develop skills that maybe they wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop,” Margaret Brent Principal Loretta Cutright said.

Special Olympics events are for people with disabilities who, at Margaret Brent Regional, range from ages 5 to 21. Challenge Day happens once each year at Margaret Brent Regional School, usually in the springtime.

“Challenge Day, for our population, really allows kids to maybe use some skills, develop some skills, things they might not be doing normally,” Cutright added. “And, it tells us a lot about the kids, and it lets them really develop some of their potential.”

All of the participants take the Challenge Day seriously. Students train with their teachers for eight weeks leading up to the Challenge Day, which takes place all day. Activities that most people take for granted such as throwing, catching and kicking a ball are adapted for the children who have disabilities in order to enable their participation in the sport.

Student Kwanva Scott described feeling “happy” about Challenge Day “because it’s going to be a good day for me, because I’m going to be playing today. I’m going to be helping the little kids run.”

Principal Lisa Wenzel of James Duckworth Regional, a sister school of Margaret Brent Regional, demonstrated her support despite her busy schedule.

“I’m very excited because it’s one of the highlights of our school year,” Wenzel said. “It’s kind of like our big day to shine, and it’s one of the best days to showcase all of our students in such a positive way and everybody’s a winner today.”

Margaret Brent adaptive physical education teacher Stephen Wolff presents activities in a modified form for the students. Wolff noted that the students have been through a “rigorous,” eight-week training course prior to Challenge Day, a course based on a theme from the Maryland Athletic Training program. All Challenge Day events fit into this year’s theme: “It Takes A Village.”

Wolff and his wife have an adopted daughter who has a disability and an autistic son from Wolff’s past marriage, so Wolff says he is “used to this population” and loves it despite the hard work.

“It’s very challenging, but it is very rewarding because there’s progress. People don’t think they make progress, but they do in very small increments,” he said. “But when you know a child in their lifetime of 5 to 21 and they cross the stage you can actually say, ‘I was there from the beginning, and I was an important part of their life as many years as they got to know me.’ It’s nice to see them get to that level. Most people write these children off and say ‘No, no. They can’t do this and they can’t do (that).’ They can do a lot more than they think they can and that to me is important and it’s very rewarding.”

The event at Margaret Brent Regional commenced with opening ceremonies around 10 a.m., then the students moved to various locations inside the school to participate in activities such as aquatics, volleyball and motor activities.

Students and staff took a break to eat lunch, provided by Outback Steakhouse, and finally they reconvened in the gym for closing ceremonies and the awarding of medals.

Dr. Glenn Gross, an adult living with a disability, was the guest speaker.

“I am very excited because I like to give back,” Gross said. “I show them what they can do with what ability they have to do well in school and life. It’s about persevering and about having challenges and overcoming those challenges and just hanging in there and doing your best.”

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