SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. — The Hudson Valley Special Olympics Spring Games East will head to Sleepy Hollow High School on Saturday, May 18. It is the first time in 20 years the annual event has come to town.
Athletes who do well at Sleepy Hollow have a chance to advance to the New York Special Olympics Summer Games in June and then on to national and even international competitions.
“We really stress that it's not a field day,” said Sleepy Hollow High School special education teacher Kim Kaczmarek, who also coaches the school's Pioneer League Special Olympics team. “It's a serious competition because athletes can move on to much higher-level events."
Kaczmarek and her coaching partner Bonnie Berry led the efforts to bring the games to Sleepy Hollow. They worked to grow the school's program and felt it was time for Sleepy Hollow to host the event.
“We've become very well known for our school spirit and our inclusiveness and our support of our special athletes,” says Kaczmarek. “The Special Olympics staff noticed it and also other schools that come to play us noticed it. They were commenting that they've never been to a school like this where there's such unity, and our kids are embraced by the whole community.”
Although the Pioneer League in which Sleepy Hollow High School normally competes is a student league, the May event will feature 500 to 600 athletes of all ages. “You can be involved in Special Olympics your whole life,” Kaczmarek said. “It doesn't end when you finish high school.”
The games are free to attend. Opening ceremonies start at 10 a.m., with competition beginning at 11:15 and running until 3:30 p.m. on the main athletic field behind the high school. “It's such an inspiring event,” said Kaczmarek. “When you come to this event, you leave a different person. It changes you in some positive way. It's just a feel-good day.”
Anyone can volunteer to participate as a "Buddy." A Special Olympic Buddy spends the day with an athlete, helping them get to their events on time, cheering them on as they compete and meeting them at the finish line. “You really get to spend the day with the athlete and get to know them,” says Kaczmarek.
Buddies work 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be assigned to an athlete that day. Kaczmarek and Berry would like each athlete to have a Buddy, which means they are looking for 500 to 600 volunteers. A "Buddy" orientation will be held before the event. All ages are welcome to be a Buddy, but kids younger than high school must partner with an adult.
“I've been a special ed teacher for 32 years, and my mission in life is to really help people be aware and show people what these athletes and what my students can do,” says Kaczmaraek. “They're incredible. I just think [the Special Olympics are] a way to bring people together and to break down barriers. We have more in common than we do differences, and this is a way to show that to people.”
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