Little ‘feets,’ big fun

Student competitors and volunteers filled the field at Freeman High School for the Little Feet Meet last month.
On a balmy Friday morning, Wendy Napier sat in a pop-up lawn chair on the Douglas S. Freeman High School football field with a juice box in hand and a smile on her face as she watched her son, Justin, participate in a standing long-jump competition.

For many parents, the chance to see a child perform in sporting events is a common occurrence. For Napier, watching her intellectually disabled 8-year-old son compete with his peers is a rarity. That’s why she was so excited on that Friday morning, the day of the Little Feet Meet.

The event, which included developmentally-appropriate sports and play programs, is part of Special Olympics Virginia’s Unified Schools initiative, which focuses on making students agents of change within their school communities by fostering respect for people with disabilities, according to the organization’s website.

Approximately 850 athletes attended the ninth-annual Little Feet Meet at Douglas Freeman April 21, and about 400 students from the high school volunteered at the event. The meet was populated by 34 elementary schools from the Henrico County area.

“It’s all fun,” Napier said. Her son and his class came to the meet from their school, Fair Oaks Elementary School in Highland Springs. “To see [Justin] get so excited about it, it’s great.”

‘A thousand smiles’
The first Little Feet Meet was held at Freeman in 2009, and the event has been held there every year since. One of the event coordinators, Freeman faculty member Terry Donohue, has been involved since the start.

“The fun part for me is the day of,” Donohue said. “Where else can you go that you can look at a thousand smiles for four hours?”

Donohue said that the group of students volunteering from the high school each year changes, as many students want to be involved. This year, she worked closely with a sports management honors class at Freeman to put on the event.

“We let them jump in and help with the different aspects of getting things ready so they could see how it worked from behind the scenes,” Donohue said. Some of the planning the students were in charge of involved fundraising, creating the event’s website, distributing t-shirts and training other student volunteers.

The event’s other coordinator, Aly Truesdale of Special Olympics Virginia, has planned this and the other events in the Special Olympics Virginia’s “Feet Meet” series for the past two years.

“It’s really cool to see how excited they get when they can do something, when they can win the race or jump really far in the long jump,” Truesdale said. “It’s fun to see the kids’ excitement.”

The Little Feet Meet is one of three annual events put on by Special Olympics Virginia’s “Feet Meet” series. The other two events are the Big Feet Meet, the high school student competition held on April 17 at Highland Springs High School, and the Meet in the Middle, which was held on May 1 for middle school students at the Collegiate School.

At the meet, students were divided into three age categories – preschool; kindergarten through second grade; and third grade through fifth grade. Each level featured its own stations through which the students rotated, including track events, softball throws, tennis ball throws and an “Olympic town” – a station filled with fun games and activities for the kids.

While the entire event is extremely rewarding for participants, spectators and organizers, Truesdale said one of the best moments is seeing the satisfaction of the kids as they leave, jumping up and down, showing off their ribbons to their teachers and peers.

Donohue said one of her favorite parts of the event each year is the closing ceremony and the Special Olympics’ paragraph that is recited for the athletes. It reads:

“You help us each understand that there’s no real disability, only many different types of abilities; no real weakness, only many different forms of strength; no real wealth, only the richness of unlocking the gifts of others and of ourselves.”
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John Mayall will perform at 8 p.m. at The Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Rd. Mayall, OBE (Order of the British Empire) is an English blues singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter, whose musical career spans over 50 years. He will be performing with a full band for this show. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $65 in advance and $70 at the door. For details, call 447-8189 or visit http://www.tinpanrva.com. Full text

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