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Special Olympians have a field day

May 13, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

o Click here to see a gallery of photos from Wednesday's Special Olympics competition.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Athletes and coaches cheering "Go, Dana!"

A young man jumping and waving his arms in joy after hitting a line drive.

Parents taking pictures and video.

The Special Olympics event and Field Day held Wednesday at the Franklin Learning Center wasn't about speed or strength. The center's 170 special-needs students instead enjoyed the camaraderie and fair weather as they participated in nine events.

Four of the students will be going to the state Special Olympics in State College, Pa., in early June.

"The whole thing is wonderful," said Teresa Jenkins, a Learning Center staff member who accompanies students to the event.

Nicole Bigler, 19, of Chambersburg, has participated in Pennsylvania's Special Olympics for several years. Nicole, who teased that she runs faster than boys, enjoys meeting Penn State University football players and dancing during the closing ceremonies.

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She'll be joined by classmates Francisco Herrera and Emerson Richardson, both of Chambersburg, and Kris Erickson, of Waynesboro, this year. All will be registered in the athletics or bowling categories.

Mrs. Pennsylvania Wendy Sledd was in the crowd supporting Franklin Learning Center students Wednesday at their Loop Road school. Sledd was crowned in August 2008 and agreed to participate in 19 community service opportunities.

"Today is 198 for me, though. The Special Olympics is something I've always been involved in," said Sledd, whose husband is based in Carlisle, Pa., with the military.

Sledd has gone to Special Olympics events across the United States and overseas. Each time, the athletes and their spirit of cooperation and joy inspire her, she said.

Jenkins remembers seeing an athlete fall near the finish line of a race during a past Pennsylvania Special Olympics. An athlete from another county helped the fallen runner to his feet and across the finish line, ultimately giving up his own chance for a gold medal.

In another year, an athlete was recognized for giving the Heimlich Maneuver to another participant, she said.

Teenagers from Waynesboro Area, Fannett-Metal and Greencastle-Antrim high schools volunteered at Wednesday's event, according to Learning Center staff member Pamela Bender-Brown.

"Most of (them) already have a relationship with our students," she said. "They know the kids and our school. They know the disabilities and needs."

Principal Jane Adams-Delp said the school has been holding the Special Olympics and Field Day festivities for approximately 30 years, although some years' events were canceled due to poor weather.

Jenkins said the athletes going to the state competition would benefit from monetary donations, which can be made by contacting Regina Mancusco at Chambersburg Area Middle School.

Each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties is represented at the state event, Jenkins said. The format closely mirrors the Olympics, she said.

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