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Special Athletics an opportunity for all (05/12/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer

     Photo provided by Winona Area Public Schools

. On Thursday, May 12, the 2014 Special Athletic Competition (SAC) will provide 182 area students with a chance to participate in friendly competition.

For 182 students in grades kindergarten through 12, the 2014 Special Athletic Competition (SAC) in Winona will be that meaningful time of year where they can participate in sports without their disabilities acting as an impediment. The event will bring athletes from all across the region, with 19 districts and schools participating, including Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), Lewiston-Altura Independent School District, Caledonia Area Public Schools, Chatfield Public Schools, Dover-Eyota Public Schools, Lake Cities High School and Elementary School, Houston Public Schools, Ridgeway Community School, Riverway Learning Community, Rushford-Peterson School District, St. Charles High School and Elementary School, and Wabasha-Kellogg School District.

“Most of these students don’t have other sporting events that they participate in,” Lewiston-Altura special education teacher Kinsey Hornberg explained. “This allows them the opportunity to participate in a formalized athletic event.”

Participating student athletes will gather at Paul Giel Field — Saint Mary’s University Fieldhouse if it rains — on Thursday, May 14, starting with the parade of athletes at 9:15 a.m. and competition going until noon. People are encouraged to come out and watch the athletes compete in events including the 50 yard dash, frisbee toss, and long jump. “And it’s not only [athletic] events,” WAPS early learning special education teacher and SAC committee member Molli Kook said. “There will be face painting, bounce houses and other games for athletes and their families, so it’s a huge community [event].”

Started in the early '70s with the Kiwanis, the majority of the planning that goes into the SAC is currently done through the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). Still, Kiwanis, as well as various other sponsors throughout the area, are involved with everything from fundraising to volunteering at the event as tape measurers and timers.

“It is the most fun thing we get to do all year,” Kiwanis member and SAC volunteer Nate Emerson said. “It’s just something that touches your heart.”

Emerson, Hornberg, and Kook all strongly encourage the public to come out and cheer for the various student athletes, who, if it weren’t for the SAC, might not ever have the chance to experience the thrill of athletic competition.

“It’s a very positive place to be,” Hornberg said. “[My students] truly do look forward to this each year. When we come back at the end of the day, they’re already talking about how they’re going to improve for next year.”

The preparation is especially exciting for Hornberg, who calls SAC her “favorite day of the school year, every year.” At Lewiston-Altura, the student council organizes a send-off assembly prepared with a powerpoint that has a slide devoted to each student athlete, highlighting the activities in which they are participating for the current year. “It’s about acknowledgement and recognition,” Hornberg explained. “We’re also doing something called a ‘tunnel’ where everyone in school makes a tunnel [with their arms] and students participating [in SAC] run through the tunnel and get on the bus.”

At the event, each athlete will receive participant ribbons, while the top five athletes in each event will earn placement ribbons. Local companies have also donated medals painted and coated by hand.

For Emerson, who has been volunteering with the SAC for several years, handing out the accolades is fun and it’s rewarding to see the reactions as the students receive each medal and ribbon, but the most beautiful thing is always watching how much it means to the student athletes that the community comes out to support them each year.

“The kids get such a kick out of it,” he explained. “It’s one of my highlights of the year, and it’s one of [the kids’] highlights of the year because they feel so appreciated. It’s a blast, and it makes their day because everybody cheers — the high school kids come out, everyone comes out to watch it. It just means so much to me.”

For the students, the SAC is the one day of the year that belongs to them.

“This is their one day [to participate in athletic competition] and they take it very seriously,” Hornberg said. “Some kids look forward to baseball season or track season; this is their one day.” 


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