MACEDONIA -- The sun was shining from a bright blue sky, with a breeze keeping people cooled off as they watched more than 180 kids compete at Nordonia High School's Boliantz Stadium. Organizers say the May 18 event was the first Special Olympics track and field day in Summit County in more than 20 years.
Students and adults wore team colors, such as the Barberton Schools, which donned purple shirts for the day, and Nordonia Hills, which wore teal. It was a rainbow of colors on and off the field as Superintendent Dr. Joe Clark voiced boomed from the speakers announcing which events were up next.
In attendance were student athletes from Nordonia Hills, Copley, Aurora, Cuyahoga Falls, Woodridge, Twinsburg, Springfield Township, Stow, Tallmadge, Barberton and Kids First, an Akron school serving children with Autism in grades K-8, attended the track and field events. Events students could select included a softball throw, long jump, ramp roll, tee ball push, as well as a variety of running events, which seemed to be a favorite of many.
Carrie Hutchinson, director of pupil services for Nordonia Schools, said the "kids had a blast."
"Everything went really well, and we are looking forward to hosting again next year," Hutchinson said. "It will probably rotate among districts, as Copley Schools have expressed an interest in hosting but we want to do it one more year to tweak things here and there."
Hutchinson said she isn't sure why there hasn't been a track and field day for kids with special needs in Summit County for so many years.
"If I were to guess it's because it's a lot of work. It's a little daunting and no one really stepped up to do it," she said.
Heather Eckinrode, wife of Nordonia Athletic Director Rob Eckinrode, said she brought the idea to Hutchinson after having been involved with an event in Medina County last year.
"It's a great day for parents and students to be able to participate in a school event," she said.
Hutchinson said the event was organized by putting together a district team to organize different parts of the program. She said that while all students can participate in track and field events at their schools, most kids don't due to limitations or lack of interest.
"The reason that this event is offered is that many kids are not able to participate in the state-wide qualifying events run by Special Olympics, so it is a chance to give the students the opportunity to try different events in a non-threatening environment," she said. "We don't take times and every student gets a ribbon for each event they participate in."
Owen Thomas, 10, of the Kids First team, said running was his favorite part of the day, as did 9-year-old Katelyn Rink of Rushwood Elementary.
"I like exercising," Rink said, adding she ran in the 5K in Sagamore Hills Park for Tessa Puma April 29. Puma is a Sagamore Hills girl who recently lost the lower half of her left leg due to a sudden infection.
Linda Smith, of Rushwood Elementary's Special Education, said the school brought 20 students to the event.
"We have 10 special education students and 10 buddies," she said. "The kids are having a great time and the staff is having a great time too."
Kim Strebler, intervention specialist at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, echoed Smith's sentiments.
"The event is great for the kids, it is giving them a chance to compete," Strebler said.
She said Roberts Middle School had six kids participating, but three Cuyahoga Falls elementary schools also participating in the day's events.
A peer buddy from Cuyahoga Falls, Logan Cherveny, 12, said he was there with his fourth-grade cousin Aiden Mcaski, who was there to participate in the events.
"I think it's a cool idea because here every kid can do something fun," Cherveny said.
Hutchinson said more than 100 volunteers helped throughout the day including 50 student volunteers. She said some of the students have already told her they are excited to help next year even though they have already completed their required community service hours.
Kids First principal Joe Rohr said the school only ended up having seven kids participate this year, but added he felt the event was very well organized as he had been involved in a similar event in Stark County in years past.
"I think Carrie did a great job and I love that all the schools have different colors so parents can find us," Rohr said. "Let's do it again next year."
Briana Barker: 330-541-9433