Joshua Clark, a first grader at A.G. Richardson Elementary School, jumped in excitement to race at the Special Games Friday.
How excited was he?
“A lot!” he yelled, waving his arms as he waited somewhat patiently for his turn on the track.
Clark was one of 251 athletes competing at the 14th annual Special Games for students with differing abilities from Culpeper, Louisa, Rappahannock, Madison and Orange counties.
Franco Calabrese, adaptive physical education teacher for Culpeper County, said the students from the 27 participating schools look forward to this day.
“It’s very important for them, it’s important for their self-esteem,” Calabrese said. “It gives them an opportunity to advocate for themselves but also for their family and their peers to see their special talents.”
Calabrese said that mainstream students and students with differing abilities have become closer - pointing to the crowd at Culpeper County High School’s Broman Field. Students flowed from the classroom to the seats to cheer on their classmates.
“I have seen a lot of improvement with that,” Calabrese said. “The atmosphere around the building are a lot different since these programs (including the Medford Basketball League) have started. I see a lot more of camaraderie in the hallway.”
Angie Neely, Executive Director of Special Education for Culpeper County Public Schools, said it was part of a state initiative called “I’m determined” that helps enable students understand their disabilities and their strengths.
“It’s an awesome day and we look forward to it every year,” Neely said. “We look forward to it every year. Showing their abilities, not their disabilities - it’s an amazing day. The inclusiveness is amazing because even kids without disabilities, there’s an innate sense of inclusiveness at the schools.”
Emily Wolford, classroom teacher at A.G. Richardson, laughed as Clark bounced around excitedly.
“I think it’s a great experience especially when you have different counties join so you can see different peer levels and different abilities and they are really great at cheering each other one,” Wolford said.
Sharon Gregory, adaptive physical education teacher for Orange County, pointed out she’s had interaction with students from many of the school districts and loves seeing the students she’s taught over the years. Many ran up and hugged her as they went from the track, to the softball throw and the long jump.
“It’s incredible to watch,” Gregory said. “They get to see friends that they’ve met, through this event or other events and it’s just a nice day to celebrate.”