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Special Olympics going virtual this year

Submitted photo Lianna DiRusso, Raymond Aitken Rosa Ahrens and Draydon King practice for the Special Olympics track and field meet during gym time.

With a sense of normalcy being restored around the country, annual events that took a hiatus last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic are returning. One that is making a welcome return is the Special Olympics, though in a slightly different capacity.

The Special Olympics will indeed happen this year, but will be held virtually to maintain social distance on June 1, beginning at 10 a.m. on Zoom. The participating schools, which includes Pine Valley, Dunkirk Middle School, Dunkirk High School, Dunkirk School 7, Brocton Elementary, Silver Creek School and LoGuidice Center BOCES will have over 190 participants, and although that is a lower turnout than a normal year, is still a good turnout for the event.

As part of being held over Zoom, the competitions will be holding their events for their own athletes, and will submit the results, which will be put into a program that will determine the winners. The Special Olympics Board has already received preliminary results in order to determine the groups students will compete in; that process will just be repeated to determine the winners.

“Every participating school has sent in their scores, and we’re still dividing them up by age, gender, and ability,” said Maureen Bialaszewski, director of Chautauqua County Special Olympics. “They will run the same event they practiced at their home schools, then they’ll turn the results into me and we’ll see what place they come in.”

The Special Olympics will still be handing out awards and ribbons, which have already been given to the participating schools to hand out to those participants. They will also do a most improved athlete award, which is also the norm for the Special Olympics. This Special Olympics has increased significance for Bialaszewski, even beyond taking the year off last year.

“This is my very last one doing it,” Bialaszewski said. “I wanted to make it as special for everyone as I could. I will volunteer and help in the following years but this is my last hoorah.”

Bialaszewski said that the event not happening last year deeply impacted her, and she is excited to welcome it back for this year, in whatever capacity it comes in.

“Not having it last year made me feel down,” Bialaszewski said. “I’ve been doing it since 1989, all the sudden not doing one was depressing. I’m very excited to be doing something this year.”

Participation in the event goes beyond just the athletes, as other people associated with BOCES and beyond are helping in the event.

“The culinary arts students will be making pizza, and hot dogs will be donated,” Bialaszewski said. “And the House Careers classes will still be helping with the Olympic Village.”

And the community is rallying around it as well. The program will have several guest speakers, including Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas, E2CC BOCES Superintendent David O’Rourke, and former Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta will be giving the athletes their oath before the game. Kaleta’s sister, Nicole, is on the Special Olympics Board. Additionally, the New York State Torch Run will still occur, and will be assisted by the Lakeview Shock, Jamestown Police, the Chautauqua County Sheriffs and some of the students from the Criminal Justice Program at LoGuidice Center.

Additionally, Special Olympics pins will be given to all participating members, including athletes, staff, and volunteers. The pins were donated by Lynne Schmitt and the Order of the Eastern Star. In 2018, the pins were sold to help raise 25,000 for the New York State Special Olympics.

Although no parents are allowed to attend the event, a Zoom invitation will be given to those interested in watching, and the school therapists and staff will be there to cheer the athletes on in pursuit of their ribbons.

“We’re getting there and I’m excited about it,” Bialaszewski said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work but as long as we have fun and the kids have a good time, that’s all that matters. It’s been a depressing year and we’ll make it as special as I can.”

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