Athletes and volunteers win big at the games
By Kyle LoJacono
PASCO — Pasco County’s Special Olympics was at two sites for the first time this year, and Wesley Chapel High School was one of those two locations.
“It’s been a great day and Wesley Chapel has done a great job hosting the games,” said Special Olympics director Valerie Lundin at the Feb. 23 games. “It had always been at New Port Richey in past years, but splitting it up makes it easier for the students in the middle and east side of the county to compete. The kids are having a great time and that’s always the most important thing.”
One of those children was second-grader Eli York of Sanders Memorial Elementary School, who competed in the 25-meter assisted race.
“It’s great to watch him have such a great time,” said Diane York, Eli’s grandmother. “He’s our little miracle baby.”
Diane and her husband, Billy, are Eli’s legal guardians. Eli was shaken as a baby by a baby-sitter and suffered permanent brain damage. The two said they became his legal guardians because their daughter, Eli’s mother, “made some bad choices.”
“The doctors told us he had less than 48 hours to live and now he’s 8-years-old,” Billy said. “He’s learned to be active and he’s the center of our world.”
The day is about the athletes, but the games could not go on without the student volunteers.
“I love these kids and I want to be a special educations teacher,” said Wesley Chapel senior Melinda Kolin. “I’ve loved helping because when I was in the third-grade I had trouble reading, so to help me I started reading to the special educations classes. They helped me learn how to read and I fell in love with interacting with the kids.”
Another volunteer at the event was Jenna Moore, who is a special education teacher at Sanders.
“It’s really one of the highlights of my year to watch the kids at the Special Olympics,” Moore said.
Events at the winter games included: aquatics, basketball, bocce ball, bowling, cycling, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, shuffleboard, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball and track.
Athletes who advanced will participate in the area games in March in Land O’ Lakes for team sports and in Pinellas County for individual events.
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