Embracing Inclusivity: The Special Olympics Experience

Sana Elshafey also contributed to this article. 

The Special Olympics is an event that has been happening for about 20 years at Malden High School. An event where regardless of their abilities, student-athletes get to show off their skills and have a lot of fun. Neighboring schools also participate in this event, such as Malden’s middle schools, Medford High, Everett High, Melrose, and a few more. It is an event that brings so many positive experiences. 

The event started as an afterschool club founded by Barbara Scibelli, the Secretary in the main office, and a few years ago it was made into a class with gym credits and it counts on cumulative credits for college. Now  Jillian Robinson “Ms. Jill”, an adaptive PE teacher at all schools in Malden is in charge of the Olympics. 

High school students can volunteer at this event and also take Unified sports for a gym credit. To sign up, students have to go to a gym teacher so they can register as a volunteer. While this event takes place during the day, students get an excused absence. It is held at MacDonald Stadium from eight in the morning to 12:30 in the afternoon.  “I would definitely encourage other students to participate because it’s genuinely fun and it’s not like you have to do back-breaking work, plus you get volunteering hours,” sophomore Linh Do mentioned.

This year, the Special Olympics was held on Tuesday, May 28th. With clear skies and warm weather, faculty and students came earlier to set up for the event. As student volunteers started coming in, they were assigned a station in which they would be helping out. They had a variety of stations to be at such as face painting, races, basketball, and much more. 

When the student-athletes started to show up, volunteers stood beside the balloon arch to form a tunnel and cheer them on as they walked through. When all schools had walked, Superintendent Noriega-Murphy gave a speech followed by the national anthem from Malden police officers. Well-known songs started to play as the athletes made their way to their first stations. 

The athletes spent a good amount of time in each station before making a clockwise rotation to their next station. There were various activities like javelin, frisbee throwing, pool noodle fights, long jump, and many more. The students got through all the stations before it was time to eat. 

An ambulance and water station were on standby in case of an emergency or if someone needed to refresh themselves from the heat. There were also a lot of different snacks for staff and volunteers to eat throughout the day. Pisa Pizza kindly donated many pizzas for this event, so when lunchtime rolled around, volunteers were quick to get the pizza ready and served. Along with pizza, students were able to get chips and water. 

At the event,  everyone got to socialize and connect. Robinson, the one who helps run the event with Athletic Director Charlie Conefrey mentioned how her favorite part of the whole event itself is that “it leaves such a positive impact, it leaves all the staff city hall, all the students athletes feel very happy seeing one another connect and seeing all the student-athletes feel confident and just all the staff and students working together as one team” 

Mary-Jo Urquhart, one of the PE teachers, can do the same. As she described how much she enjoys the event, she had to mention “It’s a positive experience for everybody because it’s positive to help these kids and it’s positive to see the kids’ reaction to the whole day itself.”

Urquhart has been attending the Special Olympics for 20 years now. As for Robinson, she only started working in Malden about two years ago, but ever since then she has been in charge of it. The district, PE, and health teachers all pitch in to help get this event running. 

Scibelli started this whole amazing project as a club, and now twenty years later it is an annual event, and so many cannot wait for it to come back every year. 

Urquhart and Robinson both loved everything about the event, but since there was so much to it, there was something they liked a little extra than everything else. 

Robinson said, “I think my favorite part was the opening ceremony it was really nice to see all the athletes from all the school districts have all their peers clap and cheer for them and seeing them all supporting one another, it was very nice to see everyone involved” as for Urquhart, she mentioned, “my favorite part is seeing the kids excel at the activities, and the satisfaction they get from that day it’s so fun for them and seeing them compete is so nice.”

Although everything was very nice and nicely planned out, Eukhart wished there were awards she said, “The Special Olympics could have given us better awards but they’re coming back next year so that’s nice but everything else went well.”

As for the volunteers, there were so many students from Malden High School who wanted to pitch in and help. “It’s a positive experience for everybody because it’s positive to help these kids and it’s positive to see the kids’ reaction to the whole day itself,” Urquhart explained. All the volunteers’ faces lit up with joy playing and connecting with the student-athletes.

K C Rashmi is a tenth-grade student who decided to volunteer for this event. “My favorite part was being able to help out with various different activities including basketball, 50m dash, javelin, and much more.” 

She signed up because she wanted to partake and make a difference. “I wanted to sign up to help out because I feel like it’s such a great event and you can see how great all these people are. Being able to just make this event happen is great. I feel that this allows everyone to showcase their talents and have fun. It has a legacy behind it and it will continue to leave one,“ She mentioned with an open heart.

Rashmi says that she would sign up again and that more people should, as it also counts as volunteering hours.

Do is also a tenth-grade student who volunteered. “I loved doing the face painting, honestly it was really fun seeing kids’ reactions to their face paint, and  I signed up because the rest of the council was doing it and I wanted to experience it since I’ve never been to the Special Olympics.”

She also explained, “I think the event is great because it really brings communities together and builds a strong sense of unity. I guess I would definitely do it again even though it was scorching hot but it was super fun especially because I love being around people and the council.” 

Just like her peers, Do said she would sign up again not only because she enjoyed it so much but also because it says volunteering hours on her end, and encourages more people to join the upcoming year. 

Kyla Jobson is also a student at MHS and said, “I signed up because I thought it would be fun. The impact it left was the understanding of how others learn and see things. I would love to do it again and definitely will be. I 100% would encourage other students to go and do it because it’s an eye-opening experience and truly a blast to work with the kids.”

And finally, Sarah Fontaim explained her experience to be wonderful. She said, “My favorite was probably being able to talk to and interact with the kids from all the other schools.” She explained she signed up because she felt like it was good to get out and just help out the community from her school and others.”I believe that when we are all-inclusive in that sense, it impacts the whole city to accept everyone with love and care,I 100% would participate again and am looking forward to it next year.  She absolutely encourages other students to participate. She said, “It’s fun, it’s like a breath of fresh air, and it really just helps you open your mind.” 

Overall, the 2024 Special Olympics was a great success for everyone. All the volunteers had a blast and got to connect; all the student-athletes had such a blast trying out all the activities. Some did differ from others last year since some changes were made which a lot of the students enjoyed. 

It was a very inclusive experience capturing unforgettable memories with one another. Stay tuned for the 2025 field trip, and do not forget to sign up to not miss out on an amazing journey with different communities involved. 

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