Ear-to-ear smiles filled the halls of Shippensburg Area High School Thursday for the annual Special Needs Track and Field day, which brought students of all walks of life together for fun and friendship.
Rainy weather forced the event inside to the gymnasium, and the planned outdoor events were replaced with indoor ones. Gray skies did not put a damper on the students’ day of fun, though.
Basketball games, Corn Hole, bowling, Frisbee, a feature-length film and more left plenty for them to do.
More than 100 students were brought to the school and greeted by a few hundred teachers and sophomores, juniors and seniors who volunteered to help out.
“It gives the kids the ability to team up with regular education students and build lasting friendships,” said Cathy Ambrosio, a health room assistant with the special education department.
The event has been a staple of the school district’s academic calendar for more than 20 years. While sunny days allow for fresh air and awards for track events, the rain provided new opportunities for students to mingle and connect. Each student got a buddy to spend the day with, but before the activities there was the special greeting.
Two lines of students formed a walkway from the gym’s entrance all the way to the other end, and to the auditorium. Every time another class arrived, the pairs of student buddies would enter the gym and march between the two lines. Cheers, applause, hand shakes, high fives and pats on the back gave a warm welcome and set the tone for the day.
“Most people have done it before and it’s a lot of fun,” said 11th-grader Ethan Stouffer, looking toward the gym doors, waiting for the next set of students to walk in. Ethan participated in other events and activities for students with special needs as part of a class and always looks forward to seeing a smile on everyone’s face, he said.
“They’ve been ready to go for weeks,” Ethan said of the young athletes.
Marissa Johnson, also in 11th grade, waited in excitement for her brother, 2nd grader Cody Dells, to arrive. Cody was diagnosed with autism, but Marissa said it does not affect him much. The event, though, allows both of them to enjoy activities they normally could not usually do together.
“I’m looking forward to hanging out with my brother and having a good time today,” Marissa said.
Finally, Marissa and her brother were able to take their turn going through the tunnel of cheering students and make their way into the auditorium.
Inspiring songs, such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” were playing as students took their seats in the auditorium. After a brief introduction, students were sent on their way to have a day of fun and bonding.
Special education teacher Amy Brandt told students about the meaning behind their T-shirts, which had: “This is what a CHAMP looks like” on the front. C stands for character; H for honor; A for attitude; M for mindful; and P for purpose.
“We all want to be CHAMPs today,” Brandt said.
The back of the shirts listed the name of the event sponsors on the back, including: American Legion Post 223, Beistle Co., Cindy Coldsmith Rentals, Cumberland Highway Family Restaurant, Cramer Insurance, Drake Orthodontics, Dr. Dean Burkholder, Fogelsanger-Bricker Funeral Home, Frito Lay, the Shippensburg Kiwanis Club, Negley’s Well Drilling, Orrstown Lodge #262, RAB Offroad, Nationwide Insurance, Rita’s Italian Ice, Rushaw’s Tax Service, Schreiber Foods, TeamWear and Volvo CE.
After a few moments, the students were dismissed to the activities and no time was wasted in picking up basketballs, crayons and Frisbees. Physical education teacher Nicole Sunderland helped organize the gymnasium activities and was busy making sure everybody was having an exciting day.
She said, “It’s great to see the kids have a good time, get some physical activity in and some encouragement.”