A ‘Special’ send-off

sgilman@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

  • Riverwood medal winners

    Riverwood Middle School students brought home a number of medals from this year’s Special Olympics. The winners are listed below by grade.

    Grade 6 – Tierra Gibson, first in softball throw and fourth in 50-meter run; Dalton Pellegrino, first in 200-meter run and second in 100-meter run; and Calista Jackson, third in 100 meter run and fifth in softball throw

    Grade 7 – Myles Monk, fifth in 50-meter run and sixth in softball throw; Tristin Seaton, fourth in 50-meter run; Ben Secor, second in 100-meter run and second in softball throw; Isaac Hamilton, first in bowling and first in 50-meter walk; and Christian Smith, first in 100-meter run and second in softball throw.

    Grade 8 – Mason Brown, third in softball throw and third in 100-meter run; Brandi Avery, first in softball throw and second in 100-meter run; Kendall Richardson, first in softball throw and fourth in 100-meter run; and Erin Lang, second in bowling and fourth in 50-meter walk.

Waving signs that read “Let’s Go, Christian and Callista” and “Let’s Go, Brandon,” a swarm of orange-shirted students at Riverwood Middle School cheered on classmates as they left for the Special Olympics on April 4.

The students came out “to cheer the kids on, to wish them well,” said Peggy Tippett, special-needs teacher at Riverwood Middle.

After the Riverwood chorus sang the national anthem, the 13 special-needs students walked through the school, past the school’s jazz band and down a short red carpet before stopping next to a waiting black limousine. Cowboy Limos donated the service.

Students lined the halls and cheered, and Tippett said there was not a dry eye.

“You could look and see the kids crying, see the coaches, see the parents. It was a very emotional thing,” Tippett said. “But the special-needs kids who were participating, they were all smiling and laughing and happy.”

As students cheered, teachers released balloons from inside the limo and helped the students get in. The limousine then took them to Smithfield, where they competed in events from softball throws to 100-meter runs.

“We had almost 400 athletes,” said Carolyn Stafford, event coordinator. She said the Special Olympics Spring Games have run about 15 years, and this year was one of the better-attended events.

“It was wonderful,” Stafford said. “The weather was excellent, and I believe all the athletes had a great time.

“It was just a fun, wonderful day for the athletes, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Tippett said the special-needs students had been practicing for months to prepare for the games. It’s a big day for them, she said. The athletes put on their Riverwood Middle School shirts and get to compete with kids their age from other Johnston County schools.

The best thing about Special Olympics, Tippett said, is the smiles on the athletes’ faces when they get their medals and turn to face their parents. “They are very proud of their accomplishments, and they work very hard for what they achieve,” she said.

A special education teacher for 29 years, Tippett chose her career in childhood. Her older sister had Down syndrome, and at the time, the schools offered no classes just for special-needs students. Tippett’s parents went to then-superintendent Evander Simpson and asked for change.

“He told them, ‘If you bring me 18 kids and their parents, we’ll start a class,’” Tippett said.

The next day, her dad and one other parent brought him 36 special-needs students. Needless to say, the schools started a class.

This is the second year Riverwood Middle School has held a big send-off for its Special Olympians. In the past, special needs students would simply take a bus.

But teachers wanted “something bigger and better,” Tippett said. “We just wanted the best for our kids.”

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