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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:05:15 11:33:30

Mina Williams, a Roslund fifth grader, crosses the finish line in the 100m race.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:05:15 10:44:38

Haley Hersh, a Tunkhannock sophomore, carried the torch for the last leg of the lap.

Tunkhannock Area High School hosted the Area P Special Olympics on a bright and sunny day Tuesday with 16 schools celebrating more than 400 athletes. The athletes ranged from preschool to adults, but the smiles were the same for all ages.

Angel Hawley, along with Mary Beth Howell, Kristen Kern, Krista Dymond, and Karen Weisgold, formed a committee to spearhead the day’s events. All five women are special education teachers in the Tunkhannock district.

Hawley noted, “We have lots of new things for the kids to enjoy- music, SnoCones, popcorn machine, face painting, nail station, temporary tattoos, a dance tent….and the actual Olympics!”

The day began with a parade of all the schools around the high school track, lead by the band. As the schools finished the opening ceremony lap, everyone came together for the passing of the torch and to recite the Special Olympics pledge.

Security Officer Rich Seaberg and his trusty sidekick Max the German shepherd, handed off the torch to Tunkhanncok sophomore Haley Hersh.

During the National anthem, performed by the Tunkhannock chorus, freshman Rebecca Verry signed the entire song. Though she is fluent in American Sign Language, she admitted, “It was nerve racking but a great opportunity.”

Joe Lillis has been the manager of Area P, which includes Wyoming, Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Wayne and Pike counties, for eight years, but has been involved for more than 20.

He gave a big shout out to Mary Beth Howell. “Mary Beth does a fantastic job. I think she started coordinating for this the day after last year’s event. They’ve grown these Olympics dramatically, they have quite the staff. I am quite proud of her.”

He added, “We wanted to make it something the kids would love, that they could enjoy, and have fun all day.”

Volunteers were embraced throughout different stations of Memorial Stadium. Tunkhannock’s Occupational and Speech therapists were manning the sno-cones and popcorn machines.

Elk Lake music teacher Ryan Berry donated his time and equipment to DJ and announce throughout the day.

“It seems like a great event, everything here is donated. It is incredibly organized. I’m excited to be a part of this,” he said while showing off his dance moves.

“The high school student council and gifted students program volunteer for the day. They help with the field games, and are buddies for the middle and elementary school Tunkhannock athletes,” Hawley explained.

Junior Marina Welles, president of Student Council, is in her third year of volunteering at the Special Olympics. “It is nice to come out here and do something fun to help. We play games, the best part is to see the smiles.”

Student council adviser Staci Wiernusz added, “I don’t know one of our high school kids who doesn’t enjoy the satisfaction of serving the special needs children and our community as a whole. It fosters a sense of accomplishment. It is very humbling for the high school volunteers, and has, in the past, lead them to careers in special education.”

Pilar Williams, mother of Tunkhannock fifth grader Mina, offered,” This is just wonderful. She enjoys this special day set aside for her and her friends. It is a wider demographic of kids like her.”

Elk Lake mom Nanette Pettyjohn agreed, saying, “Abby loves to be with people no matter where she is. Something like this, in a public way, makes it a party for her. With Abby, it doesn’t matter if she wins as long as everyone is having fun.”

The excitement of the day was seen throughout the stands and the competitions.

Every athlete was greeted with hugs and high fives from other competitors and new friends.

“Such fun,” said Abby Pettyjohn.

It certainly was.