For the first time in five years 20 student athletes from Shawnee Public Schools will run, throw and compete at the 2020 Special Olympics in Stillwater at Oklahoma State University in May.
According to Theresa Dame, Department Head of Special Services at Shawnee High School, the Student Council held a week long fundraiser called Howl Week in October to raise money for travel expenses to get students to the Special Olympics.
"They raised over $4,000 and they're still getting donations...So that was amazing for their first year," Dame said. "The week was a blast. I really feel like there was a big awareness of Special Olympics and what we're doing this year from that whole week."
The educator explained there will be a total of 20 athletes from SHS and Shawnee Middle School competing at the event and each student will have a peer helper.
"Each athlete will be assigned a peer, a buddy from the high school, to stay with them for the full three days," Dame said. "So one room will have an athlete and a peer and the next room will have an athlete and peer (and so on)."
In addition to peer partners, Dame said there will be about 10 adults on the trip including parents, teachers and paraprofessionals to help the student athletes.
The special education teacher explained SMS educator Jessica Burdine is the coach of the Shawnee Wolves and will lead the athletes at the competition.
Dame said she and educator Justine Warren are the assistant coaches and have been practicing with the students.
"We just did a trial run to see their times (and) we're going to keep practicing with them," Dame said.
Dame explained the Special Olympics are May 13-15 and students from schools across the state will be competing.
"There's the Opening Ceremony just like the real Olympics...there's a dance on the Stillwater football field...and then the second day the athletes will compete...the next day after competition day is the awards ceremony and everybody will leave will a medal of some kind," Dame said.
The Special Olympics are important, Dame said, because they allow these students to experience the fun of sports.
"They're athletes when we do this. That's the cool thing about it...It just makes them very normal and...any time we can make them feel like there's no limitations that's a win," Dame said. "We expect them to achieve their best."
The athletes will be running and throwing softballs and Dame said those with the best times and distance will place in the competition.
"They've been asking for years to do it...and they're looking forward to it and they're excited about it," Dame said.
If they place high enough, Dame said the Shawnee Wolves would be able to compete at the World Special Olympics.
According to the educator, students, staff and members of the community have been extremely supportive and generous to the athletes as they prepare to compete.
"Todd Boyer, our Athletic Director, has gotten with some folks that he knows and they're going to donate the athlete's outfits that they're going to wear for the events that they're doing," Dame said. "Through the donations of Howl Week...we should be able to get everybody t-shirts for everyday, take them to Eskimo Joe's and do that kind of stuff while we're up there," Dame said.
Dame said the students received two grants from BancFirst and the Shawnee Education Foundation totaling $1,740 to compete in the Special Olympics.
"The kids that are helping us get there (are) excited about what they can do and it has just been really bringing everyone together and (we're) backing them the same way we do the football team and the baseball team," Dame said. "They get told no on a lot of things because they're ability isn't at the level that it needs to be, but for Special Olympics they don't get told no."