Special Olympians shine in competition

Three Vineyard athletes, along with a contingent of two dozen coaches, teachers, parents, and fans, traveled to Mashpee High School last Friday for the fourth annual Special Olympics of Massachusetts (SOMA) South Section Cape Cod School Day Games.

Celeste Ewing, 19, Elke Klein, 15, and Austin Simonin, 15, represented Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and competed in eight events with more than 260 athletes from Cape Cod area schools.

The Vineyard Olympians participate in the adaptive physical education program under the guidance of MVRHS varsity field hockey coach and physical education teacher Lisa Knight and life skills teacher Laura DeBettencourt.

Ms. DeBettencourt said in a phone call a few weeks ago that Ms. Knight organized the students’ participation in the competition with Beth Vaughn of the SOMA Cape and Islands program.

Celeste, Elke, and Austin started training with Ms. Knight last fall.

Lisa introduced them to all the events, helped them to believe that they could succeed, and always stressed good sportsmanship.

Each athlete was given a specific task in preparation for the event. Celeste came up with a musical playlist, a “pump up” CD that helped motivate the team during workouts.

Thanks to some generous donors, the athletes were outfitted by the MVRHS athletic department, Ms. DeBettencourt said.

When the big day arrived, the high school administration provided considerable support, supplying a fan bus and allowing students time off to attend the event.

The Vineyarders left on the 7 am ferry, sailing on the most beautiful of days. As each busload of competitors arrived at Mashpee High School, a host of Mashpee students, Special Olympic organizers, and volunteers greeted athletes and fans enthusiastically.

Each school was assigned a “meet and greet” escort. Mashpee High sophomore MacKenzie Ryan did a wonderful job working with the Vineyarders, guiding the athletes through the rotation of events, and actively encouraging them in each contest.

The parade of athletes and opening ceremonies started at 9:30. The Mashpee High School A Capella Singers led off with a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The competition began at 10 am. Celeste, Elke, and Austin competed in eight events — Frisbee golf, the soccer kick, gladiator ball (outdoor bowling), parachute, 10-meter assisted walk, and three state qualifiers in the softball throw, 50-meter and 100-meter races.

All three Vineyard athletes performed with aplomb. Celeste was almost perfect in Frisbee golf and ran a strong 100 meters with Elke, who threw a mean softball two events before. Austin turned in a fine 50 meters in his own right.

By the end of the morning, when the medals were awarded, the issue of which contestants scored the most goals, threw the farthest, and ran the fastest gave way to delighted smiles on the faces of everyone involved.

MVRHS athletic director Sandy Mincone helped physical education department head Anne Lemenager with the video chores. Ms. Mincone summed up the day, which watching the soccer competition.

“Isn’t this [the Special Olympics]the best? You just want to smile all day long,” she said.

Ms. Knight said one of her memorable moments was when, “Celeste came up to me and said, ‘I love you. This is the best day of my life.’”

In a day filled with unforgettable memories, Celeste, Elke, and Austin all said that receiving the medals they had earned was the biggest thrill, although Elke thought the ice cream at lunch was a close second.

The athletes have since worn their medals at MVRHS and continue to get high fives and congratulations from their classmates.

The experience left an indelible impression on Ms. Knight.

“These three kids taught me the most valuable lesson of my life. They competed, and they just had a good time,” she said. “It wasn’t about winning or losing. Once we got there, I didn’t have to do anything but cheer.”