Special Games for Special People

May 6—The smiles on the faces of special needs students outshone the bright sunlight of Friday, April 26, as the annual Special Games was held on South Laurel High School football field.

Ring toss, spinning wheel, football toss, batting and wheelchair races were among the activities that students from schools across the county converged to celebrate.

Among those in attendance was Debbie Jackson, who was involved in the first Special Games (then called Special Olympics).

"Kathy Grosswiler was the one who started this because she had a special needs child," Jackson said. "That was 37 years ago. I helped her then, and I haven't missed one since it started.

At that time, all special needs children went to the elementary schools from Kindergarten until they were 18," she continued. "Then Kathy went on to teach at the high school (North Laurel) and the kids who were 11, 12 and 13 went to the middle school and high school students went to their high schools."

The goal of the Special Games is to allow children with special needs to have fun competitive games like other children but without the pressure.

"We wanted them to participate in games like other children. They have Special Olympics in big cities; we wanted these children here to do the things that other children did," she said. "These kids can't afford to go to the national games."

Grosswiler and fellow NLHS teacher, the late Rachel Hacker, were also responsible for originating a special weeklong day camp for special needs children. Camp L.E.A.P. derived from Grosswiler's dream to allow children with special needs to participate in a week long camp, just as other children sometimes do.

"Rachel Hacker had a special needs child and she started the camp," Jackson said. "Most camps won't take these kind of children and we wanted them to go to camp where they could do things that other kids do."

Venetia Humfleet also benefitted from the program.

"My son was one of the first ones at Camp L.E.A.P.," she said. "He's an adult now but I still come to these days."