'A unified day': Special Olympics bring competitive fun to Blazer

Apr. 26—ASHLAND — The Ashland Independent School District Special Olympics returned Friday, filling the Blazer track and field with smiles and competitive fun.

Hannah Molen, Ashland Middle School functional mental disability (FMD) teacher and the "brains" behind the set-up of the event, said you could smell, see and feel the happiness in the air.

"This is a unified day for all of them and their classmates to come together, support each other, cheer each other on and make friendships," she said.

"We are here to celebrate and give our students with disabilities a day that's just for them. We love seeing the smile, the laughs and interactions," Molen added.

Lindsay Riffe, Ashland middle instructional assistant to Molen, added, "They get their own day because usually they can't participate in regular sports and this is a day for them to celebrate their abilities."

Throughout the morning, students participated in wheelchair races, walker races, long jump, shot put, discus throwing, volleyball, cornhole, gymnastics, hurdles and baseball, where peer buddies pushed the kids to do their best.

Aubrey Foster, a junior, took part in the Special Olympics in 2023 and said she returned this year as a peer buddy because she envisions a career in dealing with disabled children.

"I really loved it and I looked forward to doing it this year. It's a great thing to do that I enjoy doing," she said.

"When I am older I want to work with special needs kids and this is something that helps me get connected with that. I love being supportive of them and letting them have a great day because that's what they deserve," Foster added.

Luke Matthies, an eighth-grade student, was volunteering for the first time and out by the volleyball net encouraging the kids to hit the ball.

"I wanted to help the community out. It gives them the chance to participate in athletics that they wouldn't be able to normally and have fun," he said.

Jackson Billups, a junior at Blazer, expressed the importance of the event.

"It's a time for them to have fun. Instead of being in a classroom, they get out here, they get to have events and have people cheer them on. It's important for them. If you look out here they are all having a good time," he said.

"My mom worked in special education for a little bit so I was around them a little bit," he added. "It's fun to be able to help them. It makes you feel good about yourself."

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