PARAMUS, N.J. – Eighteen students won medals in the district’s first annual Special Olympics Track Meet at Paramus High School Wednesday.
The event, which had everyone smiling, was a project of the high school’s two-year-old Unified Sports Club.
Such clubs, which are a national movement, are designed to pair special education students with general education students. Together, they mingle in sports and other extracurricular activities as well as during recesses.
“The idea is to raise awareness and break stigmas some of the kids may have about students with disabilities,” said Juan Castro, district coordinator for Special Olympics and Project UNIFY in Paramus.
“It’s also about establishing friendships between kids,” he added. “Without the joint activities, the relationships probably would never have happened.”
On Wednesday, a number of general education students volunteered to help out, keep time, and coach participants, according to Jeanne Browne, coordinator of the Paramus High School Unified Sports Club.
“They were amazing,” she said.
The two-year-old club, started with a grant obtained by Castro, started with only high school and middle school members, Browne explained.
“Last year we took the kids bowling twice a week in Fair Lawn,” she said.
The impact on the students was so positive, she added, that this year two more sports were added — basketball and track and field. Also, elementary school children were included in some activities.
The special ed students were jazzed about having their own school Special Olympics.
“It was truly a wonderful, positive experience,” said Allison Libowsky, a graduating senior. “Students with special needs have a chance to be in the spotlight, which is something they hardly get to do due to their not being able to participate in much activities.”
Danny Paolazzi participated in the long jump and had a great time. He said he likes to run, like his dad used to do with the North Jersey Masters Track and Field Club.
“It was a lot of fun and it was really hot,” said Michele Spinoso of the high school.
Next year, the Unified Sports Club will expand its activities even further.
Plans are to invite other school districts with such clubs into next year's Special Olympics program.