Special Olympics participants enjoy the spotlight at Northampton High School track

Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Bridge Street School student Mason Cruz looked nothing short of heroic as he sprinted down the Northampton High School track Thursday wearing a Superman tank top.

Running alongside him was Craig Murdock, Bridge Street School physical education teacher and, on Thursday, a coach for the annual Northampton School Day Games, hosted by Special Olympics Massachusetts.

“We don’t worry about the results,” said Murdock, also an adapted physical education teacher for Northampton schools. “The excitement and the joy you see in their faces — it reaches the stars. That’s what I love most about it.”

Mason, 6, a kindergartner, was among 84 athletes from 11 schools who participated and earned medals in this week’s games, which included hurtles, hula hooping, long jumping and a 50-meter dash set up at different stations around the track.

Participants were from communities including Northampton, Granby, South Hadley and Deerfield. More than 50 Northampton High School student-volunteers helped run the event under the guidance of organizer Mackenzie Paolini, the adapted physical education teacher who works at the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton.

“It was a great opportunity for the student-athletes to be able to be in the spotlight and have people come out and watch them and cheer them on,” Paolini said. “It’s also a great opportunity for the volunteers to see another aspect of what Special Olympics does.”

As the sun made its way out from behind storm clouds, bouncy pop music and inspirational tunes such as Queen’s “We are the Champions” and the theme from “Rocky” blared from the speakers.

Students rotated to a different event every 10 minutes. There was no shortage of screaming and cheering at any of the stations, and many athletes’ parents came out in support. At the hurdle station — where participants were encouraged to jump or step over them but allowed to “limbo” below them if they chose — Cindy Mahoney gave the thumbs up to her daughter Rosie, 9, a second grader at Bridge Street School, after she quickly made her way through the obstacles.

“They keep them moving, so there’s no standing around,” Mahoney, of Northampton, said. “Mr. Murdock is amazing at adaptive P.E. so everyone feels like they’re succeeding at their level.”

She added that Rosie was especially excited to be out on the track — her two older sisters are runners.

“So to be part of this world for her is great,” Mahoney said.

At the ladder-ball station, student volunteers and faculty from participating schools gave words of encouragement to the athletes as they carefully tried to land their bolas on the ladders.

“It’s all in the wrist,” Granby Junior-Senior High School paraprofessional Mike Siano called out to a student.

More than 30 students in Helping Out People Everywhere, or HOPE, a community service club at Granby Junior-Senior High School, also cheered on their peers participating in the games. Thrilled to be there too were the club advisers, Spanish teachers Cindy Kwajewski and Lis Sowa.

“It’s all about teaching them important life lessons,” Sowa said. “We try to bring that home to our classes and to our students that it shouldn’t matter your age or your gender or your skin color or some disability you might have. What really matters is accepting one another.”

David Marks, an educational support professional at R.K. Finn Ryan Road School in Florence, said he finds the long jump and the hurdles to be particularly exciting. When his student, Cyrus Wood, 8, finished his jump, the boy ran victoriously around to the back of the line again.

“They get a lot of this in P.E.,” Marks said. “But this is just a special focus on them and it’s all about really showcasing their strengths.”

He recalled lifting Cyrus over the tallest hurdles the year before. But this year, it was not necessary. Cyrus made it over them all himself.

“When they get that medal, it’s such an awesome thing to see them run up and bring it back,” Marks said. “It’s a really special time for them.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.


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