A Special day for local students

Matthews, Mint Hill schools participate in Mecklenburg County Special Olympics

(Above) Quadir Mahdi, left, and Charles St. Bernard, both fifth-graders at Lebanon Road Elementary School, race in the 50-yard dash in the Mecklenburg County Spring Special Olympics, Wednesday, April 25, at Charlotte Country Day School. Lebanon Road, along with several other Matthews and Mint Hill middle and high schools, had around 115 special needs students competing in this year’s competition. Morgan Smith/MMHW photo

by Morgan Smith

Lynne Broadus wants her son to live a normal life, taking every opportunity put in front of him. But she says it’s not so easy when society has a different stereotype in mind.

Jourdan Broadus, 8, has autism, and Lynne said, people sometimes underestimate his abilities.

“I just want him to be able to participate,” Broadus said of activities like athletics. “I just want to prove other people wrong – that (children with special needs) can participate too.”

That’s why Jourdan and his friends from Lebanon Road Elementary School in Mint Hill participate in the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics. It’s the third year for the school to compete and exceptional children teacher Rachel O’Neill says the event is a great way to lift the spirits of the athletes while teaching them life lessons.

“It’s a really good social skill to practice – how to accept losing and not always being the first to finish or not always getting gold,” O’Neill said. “And how to cheer for our friends; how to say ‘good job’ and how to really be a team. They really do a good job with it.”

Lebanon Road Elementary was the only Matthews-Mint Hill elementary school to participate in this year’s elementary competition April 25, at Charlotte Country Day School, with 19 of the more than 300 athletes. Also participating in the event were several area middle and high schools including Butler High with 12 athletes, Crestdale Middle with 26, Independence High with 17, Providence High with 26 and Rocky River High with 15. Nearly 650 athletes in all participated in the older division competition April 24.

At Lebanon Road, students participated in two different events – the softball throw and the 50-meter dash. Jourdan placed in both of his events, first in the softball throw and fourth in the dash.

“It is so much fun – it’s a different way to get kids involved,” O’Neill said.

Greg Morrill, local coordinator of Special Olympics, said the event is something the athletes look forward to all year. Most of the athletes even begin training for the competition months in advance.

“They are training throughout the year and during the spring,” Morrill said. “They are training at their schools. They’re training outside of school and they’re getting better – trying to improve their times.”

At Lebanon Road, O’Neill said the students have been training in their physical education classes and during recess since late February, going through practice races and throws.

By participating in the spring Olympics, athletes also have the chance to interact with upper school students from Charlotte Country Day School. They’ve hosted the event for the past 29 years, Morrill said, and both Country Day students and the athletes love the interaction.

“We feel it’s unique. We see it out here in the athletes and also in the students – their interaction – they form friendships that we see even in later years when alumni come back,” Morrill said.

For Lebanon Road’s athletes, O’Neill said connecting with the high school students is just an added bonus. During the event, athletes are paired with buddies, or upper school students, for the day.

“It really is a good opportunity for everyone,” O’Neill said.

Sandy Hutchins said her 12-year-old son, Marshall, loves competing in the games, but most of all, it’s a great learning experience.

“This is a really good activity for him and he loves doing it,” Hutchins said. “Sometimes these kids are so sheltered. It’s just great to see them interact with other kids. It gives these kids a place in the world.”

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