Brashinger: Track-and-field team boosts SD 157C special needs kids
Ginger Brashinger Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2013 2:22PM
The Frankfort School District 157C track and field team walks around the track during a Special Olympics event. | Supplied photo
Updated: September 12, 2013 6:10AM
When Carrie Clodi, director of special services for Frankfort School District 157C, and Dan Prorok, assistant principal at Chelsea Intermediate School, put their heads together two years ago to create an “opportunity for students to engage with their peers outside of the school day,” they didn’t know where it would lead.
But the two educators jumped in with both feet and organized a track and field team to offer special-needs students a chance to compete athletically, at least on a local level, and reap a variety of benefits from the experience.
“It allowed the kids an opportunity just to be kids outside of the school day,” Clodi said. “Oftentimes, our kids aren’t getting those social opportunities.”
By the second year, 14 students joined the team, and a group of volunteers consisting of District 157C staff and some parents began training the kids in events such as the standing and running long jump, softball throw, shotput and races.
Clodi and Prorok said everything was on a voluntary basis for the students, with no selections or tryouts, and there was no cost for either the students or the district. The plan was to prepare the students for an area meet while having fun doing it.
Clodi said they talked to the students about what events they wanted to compete in, and the adults then began carefully assessing students at practice to place them where they would be most successful.
Ralph Krauss, a Special Olympics coach for adults at the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, invited the District 157C team to participate in a “mock meet” with other area school districts in May at Thornwood High School in South Holland.
The team’s weekly practices and the simulated meet paid off. Athletes were required to earn at least one gold medal at the area level to advance to the state meet in June at Illinois State University, Clodi said, and seven of the 14 District 157C students qualified for state competition.
Clodi and Prorok said the experience was so rewarding, they hope to repeat it each year going forward. But they agree that there have been even greater benefits than winning competitions for the special-education students.
Clodi said the young athletes learned that the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association will be available to them for recreation and athletic competition through their adult years. The same is true, she said, for Special Olympics Illinois, which also provides competition from grade school through adult years.
“It allows our students to get into an organization, not only when they’re here, but when they’re adults,” Clodi said.
She and Prorok said the track and field team produced positive changes in the students.
Because students are asked to engage in interactive activities at each practice, the program “did help them with their sociability as far as talking to one another,” Prorok said.
He said the adults tried to “keep it loose” for the kids because it was “all about having fun,” but in the process of meeting and competing, some valuable life skills were acquired.
“They learned a lot about taking turns and sportsmanship and cheering one another on,” Prorok said.
An additional benefit was meeting new people. Students who might otherwise not become acquainted met and formed a team when students from all three District 157C schools — Grand Prairie Elementary, Chelsea Intermediate and Hickory Creek Middle School — came to practice at Chelsea’s “Tiger Track.”
The parents also benefited, Clodi and Prorok said, by getting to know one another through the program and at competitions and taking pride in their children’s accomplishments.
For more information on the District 157C track and field program, call (815) 464-2043.