Special needs athletes ‘play as champions’ in 33rd annual Special Games

Nicole Kresich, Staff Reporter

Courtesy Lauren Amy Cruise
HIGH FIVE: Athletes are introduced along the parade’s entrance during this year’s Special Games on April 21. Student volunteers welcome the athletes with balloons and cheers of adulation as they make their way across the field.

Every year, hundred of athletes with special needs come to compete in Mater Dei’s annual Special Games. Mater Dei’s 33rd annual Special Games kicked off on the track and football field on April 21. Student volunteers served as buddies and worked in game booths and track events to help make this day memorable and exciting for the athletes.

Those who volunteered as leaders and coordinators met every Tuesday before school and during lunch in Campus Ministry for months planning this year’s Special Games. Inspired by the University of Notre Dame’s motto, Special Games Coordinator and senior Caroline Lavayen helped decide the theme for this year’s event: “Play Like a Champion!”

“I like that everybody, from whatever corners of Mater Dei, can come together to make one day where it’s not about them, and for other people,” Lavayen said.

Student volunteers are organized into buddy groups and game leaders, where they are put to work in order to make this day special for all participants. Buddy group members are partnered with an athlete for the day, while game leaders organize and become experts in their assigned game.

Special Games Director and senior Tommy Brown completed his second and final year volunteering for the Special Games.

“Last year I was a leader of the obstacle course so… you’re everyone’s buddy because they come to the games to have fun,” Brown said. “I really had a lot of fun being able to do that last year.”

Courtesy Lauren Amy Cruise
AWAITING IMPACT: Volunteers watch as their buddies engage in the sponge toss game.

The games are highly populated and active, especially during breaks between racing events. Junior game leader Sophia Fanticola led the fan favorite sponge toss game at this year’s Special Games.

“I felt like I really knew what to do and how to have fun with athletes, and I have always wanted to be a leader, so this was the perfect opportunity for me,” Fanticola said.

Student volunteers and Campus Ministry supplied games for the events from DJ dance competitions to soccer dribbling to fast racing events. As a result, the athletes get to remain active involved throughout the event with so many options to choose from.

Courtesy Lauren Amy Cruise
RACE TIME: Athletes run the track with their buddies during an event. The competitors have their eyes on the finish line!

“[Special Games] has definitely taught me to live for others,” Lavayen said. “Even though there’s normal High School stuff that you get caught up in, there are things going on that are bigger than you.”