Athletes of all abilities scattered across Jim McCann Stadium on Thursday — some showing their skills in various athletic events while others offered support, guidance and encouragement.
As part of the first-ever AllN Olympics at Westerville North High School, students with multiple disabilities across the district’s three high schools came together for an inclusive sporting event. WNHS athletes served as their support peers, running each event and helping the AllN Olympians through each activity.
“It’s really practicing what we call the Warrior Way of being a true unified culture and community where we accept and appreciate everybody for what they bring,” said Assistant Principal Stephanie McGeorge, who created the event.
Inspiration for the AllN Olympics stemmed from McGeorge’s class visits with students with multiple disabilities.
“It’s the place I go to when I’m having a rough day because when I interact with those kids, it always reminds me that those kids who have so many more obstacles in their life are so happy and so grateful to be here,” she said. “It reminds me to put it all into perspective and it’s such a gift to experience that I wanted more people to experience it.”
The AllN Olympics — named after WNHS’ branded hashtag — featured five stations with activities created by the school’s adaptive physical education teacher. They include a 4x100m relay, a shot put with lighter ball, hurdle race with 6-inch hurdles, a javelin throw with balls or foam javelins, and a soccer goal where students kick balls from various locations toward the net.
AllN Olympians competed in groups that featured representation from all three high schools. WNHS athletes involved in the Warrior Athletic Leadership Team managed the stations, racing alongside their peers, helping them hold onto equipment or holding their hand as they leapt over hurdles.
It was an opportunity to connect with students they’ve seen in the hallways but rarely interact with in the classroom.
Junior Ben Gableman, who supported AllN Olympians during the 4x100m relay, chatted with them about school, birthdays, the excitement of college and other tidbits about their life. Some of the students he interacted with were familiar faces from elementary and middle school.
“It just opens your eyes to how we’re not really much different from them,” said Gableman, who runs cross country and track. “There may be a physical barrier there but we’re all high schoolers. It’s just a cool experience.”
The event culminated with a closing ceremony where each group received a trophy: teamwork for Westerville Central, sportsmanship for Westerville South, and effort and enthusiasm for WNHS. Every participant received a WNHS jersey that has been donated by the school’s athletic teams.
Each AllN Olympian signed a banner of the inaugural event that now hangs in the stadium — the first of what McGeorge hopes will be many as she plans to continue the event in the future.
WCHS intervention specialist Annmarie Shoemaker, who attended the event with her students, is looking forward to it.
“I just feel really blessed that we have a good staff and a good team to be in a community that would donate and create this positive experience that the kids wouldn’t typically have,” she said. “I loved all the good spirits from the athletes and support from general ed students…just embracing everyone where they are is a wonderful thing to see.”
For WSHS intervention specialist Erin Focht, one highlight was watching one of her students speed through his leg of the 400m relay with his arms in the air and his cape flying behind him.
“He had the biggest smile on his face and that’s what it’s all about,” she said.
The event also left a mark on WNHS athletes.
“I really enjoyed it,” said senior Kaniya Johnson, a volleyball player who helped operate the hurdles station. “I liked seeing different people coming together. Even if you have a disability, you can still do things and still strive and be who you want to be.”
And by connecting with their peers with multiple disabilities, McGeorge hoped to inspire WNHS student athletes to build on the relationships they started.
Once the event was over, she said a student approached her about doing just that. He asked about having lunch with them or whether other opportunities to interact with them were possible.