Special education athletes compete in Hart Games

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: Canyon High School student Kayla Livermore, left, smiles as she crosses the finish line in first place, with some assistance from fellow Canyon student Nahal Ghanoongoi at the Hart Games at Valencia on Monday, March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Students, volunteers, teachers, parents and friends gathered at Valencia High School Monday to witness more than 300 student athletes participate in the eighth annual Hart Games.

The district-wide competition was sponsored by the William S. Hart Union High School District’s Adapted Physical Education Department and the Special Olympics to bring together special education students from across the valley to participate in a Track and Field meet.

“The best part is seeing the smiles on their faces when they cross the finish line,” said Patti Miller, an adaptive PE teacher in the Hart District and a coordinator of the Hart Games.  “They’re so proud of themselves and it’s all worth it.”

La Mesa Junio High student Cheyanne Soto, left, runs the 100 meter hurdles at the Hart Games, as speech pathologist Paulynn Riggens, right, runs alongside her at Valencia High School on Monday, March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

After the opening ceremonies, students participated in the 4×100 relay, 200-meter dash, 50-yard dash, 100-yard dash, 100 yard hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, softball throw, modified javelin throw and modified discuss throw.

“We started out really basic and each year we’ve added a couple of things here and there, like this year we added the discus throw and we added the javelin throw a couple years ago,” said Steve Pinkston, an adaptive PE teacher in the Hart District and a coordinator of the Hart Games.

Two to three months before the Hart Games, students practice and prepare for their upcoming events in their adaptive PE classes.

“We’ll sit down and meet with teachers and aids and kids and have a conversation of which events they want to do and which events they’d be best at,” Pinkston said.  “They can do up to three events.”

The Hart Games are also an opportunity for students to get an opportunity to compete against their peers, see friends from other schools and have fun together.

“For a lot of them it’s the only time they compete so there is a lot of joy from the parents too,” Miller said.

Each school also brings volunteers and peer mentors to organize events, help students prepare for the competition and cheer participants on.

Valencia High School student Cristian Arias smiles as he lands on the high jump mat during the Hart Games at Valencia on Monday, March 20, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

As students passed off their batons or propelled themselves over the high jump, crowds around them erupted in applause and cheers while holding up posters of encouragement.

“I’ve always been a spirited and inclusive person and seeing that there are events for people that are inclusive is great,” Canyon High School senior and volunteer Nahal Ghanoongooi said.  “Everyone is so diverse and with all this diversity everyone unites.”

Valencia High School sophomore Kelly Whetsel volunteered during the Hart Games as part of her sports medicine class, which was offering first aid to those who needed it throughout the day’s events.

“I like seeing when they’ve finished and how happy they are,” she said.

For Crystal Schulps, a special education teacher at Rio Norte Junior High School, the best part of the day is seeing her students spend time with their peer tutors and run around the track.

“The best part seeing my kids participate and being excited to spend time with their friends,” she said.

Participants in this year’s Hart Games included: La Mesa Junior High School, Rancho Pico Junior High School, Rio Norte Junior High School, Sierra Vista Junior High School, Canyon High School, Golden Valley High School, Valencia High School and Trinity Classical Academy’s Image Dei School.

“It was awesome to see everyone come together and support each other,” said Daisy Perez, a Canyon High School junior and Hart Games volunteer.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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