Westminster event offers an even playing field

The Baltimore Sun

Amanda Walker rolled a strike and three spares at bowling. Shawna Tragesar rolled two strikes.

Andrew Sweeney made a backward throw into a floor basketball net.

The three youths were participating in the first Inclusion Field Day, hosted by Westminster High School for special education students from the county's high schools.

The 40-plus teenagers, with a range of disabilities, participated in 10 physical education activities that had been set up around Westminster's main gym.

Teachers and student-helpers assisted the youths with volleyball, a hockey shoot, a target throw, scooter handball, golf, a parachute wave, keep it up, and scoop and shoot.

"It's an opportunity for them to come out and interact with other kids and play sports and games," said John Perna, the adapted physical education coordinator at Robert Moton Elementary School who organized the Wednesday event.

"They can socially and physically interact in noncompetitive activities with regular students and it's an opportunity for the regular students to participate in leadership skills," he said.

Brenda Baker, Westminster's physical education teacher, said there were more than 50 helpers. It also was a learning experience for the adapted physical education teachers, who could learn new ways to differentiate activities for varying degrees of disabilities, Perna said.

As rock 'n' roll blared from a boom box, the teens moved in groups around the gym from station to station, whooping with delight at making a basket and giving a high-five to teammates and teachers after making a strike in bowling.

For Amanda, a 17-year-old from Winters Mill High, bowling was a chance to do a sport out of her wheelchair. Using a walker, she stood behind an elevated bar and rolled the bowling ball down and across the floor.

Earlier, she had been part of a game of keep it up, where participants had to keep a huge lightweight canvas ball in the air. The ball was so large that some students cringed when it was hit toward them, but Amanda raised her hands to keep the ball in the air when the opportunity came.

Andrew Sweeney, 18, enjoyed playing basketball, volleyball and the parachute, a favorite of many of the students. His life skills teacher, Jennifer Wolfarth, said he was the fastest runner in his physical education class of 60 students.

Wolfarth echoed many of the attending teachers when she said, "I'm having fun. It's nice to watch them, it's noncompetitive and relaxing for them."

Jackie Oberlechner, North Carroll High School's special education teacher, noted that the event gave the students a chance to do something different, since many of them can't participate in regular physical education classes.

"They like to play games," Oberlechner said. "They can express themselves and it gives them a chance to win and feel good about themselves."

Oberlechner proudly added that Shawna, a 16-year-old freshman, is "very active and tries hard at everything she does."

Before the day's activities began, David Mazziott, 17, from Westminster High, led the group in the pledge of allegiance. After a break to dance to the song "YMCA," David talked about his favorite activity, singing.

Although developmentally challenged, David said he is in his third year in the school's choir and can sing two octaves - from second bass to first tenor.

"That's as powerful as I can get," he said. But he was equally proud of the strike he got in bowling, and playing scooter handball and volleyball.

The variety of activities "helps them develop motor skills, hand and eye coordination, socialize and get exercise," said Gerry Moyers, Westminster's life skills teacher. "It brings them all together to meet others in the same situation and helps them compete on the same level."

The student-helpers, like the teachers, seemed to have as much fun as the participants. Daisy Kron, a student-helper from North Carroll, lit up with enthusiasm when asked about her part in the day.

"I love working with them, they're hilarious," said Daisy, 16. "It's so rewarding and nice to see them getting out there.

"They can get pretty competitive. We've had some interesting times. We go bowling on Fridays, and they love that," she said.

"Some fight to be the best - they all want to be the best."


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