Students Shine Bright at Special Olympics

Jun 21, 2024

A record-breaking number of students participated in the 19th annual DSBN Special Olympics, held on June 11 at Welland Centennial Secondary School. The beloved event saw students from over 80 elementary and secondary schools join in, competing in a variety of athletic events including long jump, frisbee toss, track races, softball throw and a brand-new obstacle course.

“It’s my favourite day. I look forward to this day every year and it’s the smiles on these kids’ faces that truly make it all worth it,” said Andy Dermatas, Elementary Teacher, Pine Grove Public School, DSBN Special Olympics coordinator and co-founder of the event alongside Bryn Keyes, Elementary Teacher, Parnall Public School.

The day officially kicked off with the much-loved parade of athletes, led by Pine Grove and Ferndale Public School Bucket Drummers. Students from several schools played a key role during the opening ceremonies – a Land Acknowledgement was read by an Eden High School student, O’Canada was sung by students from Parnell Public School while a Kindergarten class from John Brant Public School signed the national anthem and a student from Eastdale Secondary School read the Special Olympics oath.

Continuing the tradition of selecting students to serve as torch bearers, the Special Olympics Committee was pleased to invite Devon and Katelyn from Eden High School to return to a role they previously held years ago.

“Katelyn is graduating this year and we just wanted to come full circle with our 19th year and with them being good friends, they were the perfect candidates,” said Dermatas.

Like Devon and Katelyn, many of the students in attendance were excited to cheer on their friends and participate in their favourite activities. “I love the energy, it’s fantastic, and just seeing the kids from other schools that I’ve been at too, they’re just so excited to come watch them and cheer them on. It’s very much a community,” said Paul Ferrara, Grade 6/7 Teacher, Pine Grove Public School and DSBN Special Olympics Committee member.

Throughout the day, students gave their all, surrounded by the endless encouragement and support of family members, volunteers, staff and community partners, many of whom wore specially designed T-shirts created by students.

“Today happens because of so many volunteers. It’s all the people running the events and their positivity that puts the smiles on the kids’ faces. But the stars of the show are definitely the athletes,” said Dermatas, adding “We’ve had nothing but support from senior administration. Kelly Pisek, our Director, has been an integral part of helping this grow.”  

Each year, the Special Olympics Committee takes time to reflect on the competition and look for improvements. This year, they added a new event – an obstacle course. Several schools submitted their designs, focusing on what it would look like for everyone to participate. The winning design – created by Grade 8 students from Kate S. Durdan Public School – was then chosen by the Committee.

“They were very intentional about the design and they really took the time to think about how every student would be able to participate, including creating two different versions to make it accessible for all,” said Ferrara. “We received great feedback on the obstacle course. Students said they loved it and that it’s one of their favourite events from this year.”

A very special thank you to everyone who played a role in planning this inspiring and memorable day. We can’t wait to see you again next year as we mark 20 years!