Special Olympics return to Acalanes High


Arlyne Noguera, Acalanes High School

Springhill Elementary athletes run a victory lap in the 2022 Special Olympics hosted at Acalanes High School.

Reid Aldrich and Zubin Acuña, Acalanes High School

Met with a roar of cheers as they make their way down the track, hundreds of special education students celebrated the commencement of the Special Olympics. After police officers aided a student in completing the annual torch run and united the schools for a friendly competition, the games began.

Acalanes High hosted the Special Olympics on April 22 for Contra Costa County special education students, giving them a chance to compete for the first time in three years.

Students from 14 schools around the county competed in a variety of events, including a long jump, a 50-meter dash, a 100-meter dash, shot put, a javelin throw and a wheelchair race.

The Contra Costa County Schools Partnership Program selected Acalanes as a host for the Special Olympics in 2013, and the 2022 ceremony was the eighth Special Olympics to take place at Acalanes. 

“We choose location by the hosting school’s support, desire to host and Leadership help. We also like to host at schools that have special education classes on campus and also schools nearby that have classes and can walk to the event,” said Sherri Roberti, the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program Coordinator for Contra Costa County.

The Schools Partnership Program had to cancel the Special Olympics in 2021 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, Acalanes Leadership hosted a private event for Acalanes Special Education students.

“There was a small group of Leadership and other students helping cheer on and helping the students compete against each other. Students would participate in relays, sprints, long jumps and more,” Acalanes senior Patrick Nicosia said.

Even though other schools could not participate at the time, the events created a sense of normalcy for the two Special Education classes at Acalanes. The classes and their instructors provide support to special education students, adjusting specifically to their educational needs.

“It was nice that they honored a special event just for us. Even though we couldn’t have [the Special Olympics] in its entirety, it was nice to have the extra attention going to us to go out and play, participate and have fun,” Acalanes Essential Skills Teacher Margaret Cerecedes said.

After the pandemic’s postponement of the events, the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program in Contra Costa County worked behind the scenes to organize the return of the Special Olympics at Acalanes in 2022.

“[Planning] begins with coordinating with schools, leadership teachers, administration and then setting a date, getting permits from the different districts, emails to teachers to announce the event and to sign up their classes, coordinating set up, training students and lots of organization,” Roberti said. “We [then] bring all the [specific] equipment, and we borrow the school’s chairs, tables, bleachers, etc.” 

While Contra Costa County sets up the games through the organization of the event, the teachers work with their students to prepare them for competition. While the classroom teachers motivate students for the events, an adaptive physical education teacher mentors the athletes through specialized physical education programs.

“Within my classroom I select the athletes that are going to participate in the Olympics. Then I coordinate with the APE teacher. He helps [coach] the students for the big day,” Acalanes Essential Skills Teacher Marissa Allen said.

To allow the teachers to remain with their students throughout the competition’s preparation stage, Acalanes Leadership organized volunteers to help set up and run the Special Olympics.

“Leadership has been a great participant in helping prepare for the big day. There are lots of students who have volunteered. Anywhere from creating signs to putting together gift bags for all of the athletes,” Allen said.

While some Leadership students created decorations and gifts, many others spent the day working with the athletes and running the events. 

“The community outreach board helped find volunteers, and students in Leadership all pitched in, set up, volunteered and cleaned up,” Acalanes junior Charlotte McKenzie said.

Many Acalanes students competed in prior Special Olympics as representatives of their elementary or middle schools. As high school students for this year’s event, the athletes could compete in the 100-meter dash, the long jump, the relay and the shot put. Despite having participated in the events before, athletes still felt the pressure of competition.

I did the 100-meter dash, the standing jump, and the shotput. … I felt very excited and nervous at the same time,”  Acalanes sophomore Drew Krantzman said.

Although athletes enjoyed participating in a variety of events, some liked certain events more than others.

I liked the relay and the other running and the jumping, [but] I really liked the jumping [most],” Acalanes freshman Ainsley Dodge said. 

While the Special Olympics was a time to participate in athletic competitions, some athletes said the most important part of the ceremony was reuniting with peers from other schools in between events.

“My favorite part was seeing my old friends,” Acalanes freshman Fauna Miles said.

Volunteers shared the same excitement as the athletes, especially in watching all the students have a great time interacting with each other.

“I think it’s amazing how many schools come together just for this amazing day and awesome event,” Acalanes junior Owen Estee said. “I think big community events, when everyone is brought together and has a good time, is the best for any community and we really need [that] right now.”

Volunteers and participants alike look forward to the reestablishment of the Special Olympics as a yearly tradition.

“I am excited to do it again next year,” Krantzman said. “I had fun doing all of the events, and I would enjoy doing it again.”