Van Alstyne High School recently hosted an area-wide Special Olympics Basketball event.
The campus currently hosts four Special Olympic events throughout the school year: bocce ball, basketball, soccer and track and field.
In the few short years since hosting its first track meet, the school has earned an excellent reputation for its hospitality.
Athletic Director Mikeal Miller attributes the success of the events to several factors, including an administration that supports community partnerships and student volunteers.
When Special Olympic athletes and their supporters attend an event at VAHS, they are greeted by student volunteers who cheer on the athletes and help carry items for the teams. The volunteers also help run and coordinate events and are responsible for assisting with operating the various stations.
You will also find the students cheering on individual athletes’ success while also recording times and other event-related information.
“Our student volunteers are challenged (to discover) that these days are not about them. Nothing about the day is about them,” Miller said. “We stood in the freezing cold to welcome each athlete off the bus for basketball. They stand in the baking sun and wind for our track meet.
“We tell them … `Your job is to pour all of your energy for that brief time into our guests and making that day special for someone else.’ It truly is a blessing to watch our kids embrace that challenge and give their best efforts to make these events special.”
Hunter Griffin, a VAHS senior student-athlete who helped during the recent basketball dribbling competition, said, “My favorite part has and always will be helping the athletes enjoy the feeling of competing and giving their best efforts. When they compete well, their joy goes through the roof.”
One of the ways that Van Alstyne High School sets itself apart is that it serves the athletes and their supporters free lunches during the events.
At the recent basketball event, the school’s Athletic Booster Club helped provide more than 800 hot dog meals.
Dusty Wells, a community volunteer with the booster club, said, “Our job was made easy by the VAHS culinary class, who cooked and wrapped all of the hot dogs for us” for the recent basketball event.
At an upcoming track and field event, scheduled for April 3, Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative will send a crew to cook and serve the athletes and others.
Jennifer Morgan, a teacher with Van Alstyne ISD, said she enjoys the opportunity to attend the four local Special Olympic events. She takes her eighth-grade student classroom aides to the events.
“I love to see the smiles on the faces of my students when they are called to the podium to receive their medals or ribbons,” she said, “but my favorite experience is watching the interactions between my students and their friends as they enjoy a fun day together.”
Van Alstyne Special Olympians will also attend three additional events during the year.
To help train for these events, VAHS Partner P.E. classroom teacher Jacey Guerrero said, “We dedicate at least one day per week to practice whichever specific events the Olympians are about to compete in. The (general education) students - or partners - help train the Special Olympians in their respective events.”
Senior Griffin spoke of the change that he has experienced in himself by being a part of the Special Olympics events.
“When I helped with my first Special Olympics event, I was very quiet and uncomfortable because I didn’t really know what to expect or do,” he said. “Now, I talk and help any kids I can come in contact with. I love the Special Olympics and it is an amazing way to help my community.”