YARMOUTH — Harrison Middle School’s eighth-graders last week hosted children with intellectual disabilities or autism from across the region for Special Olympics Maine’s second annual Young Athletes Festival.
“It’s pretty amazing to see what these kids are capable of,” Sam Potter, 14, said. “It’s a great experience to spend time together and show them how to do things. Everyone’s leaving here feeling really good.”
The Young Athletes Festival, which included 30 developmentally disabled children from Yarmouth, Portland, Falmouth, Gorham and elsewhere, caters to kids ages 2 1/2 through 11. The young athletes spent the morning Hula Hooping, kicking soccer balls, jumping tiny hurdles, playing with a parachute and more.
“It’s an introduction to the Special Olympics through play,” said Lisa Bird, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maine. “It’s developmentally appropriate. If we have a child who wants to stay at one station all day, they can. It’s very flexible.”
Special Olympics, which traditionally caters to athletes ages 8 and up, will hold its Maine Summer Games from June 6-8 at the University of Maine. Over 50 of the athletes competing there will also participate in the national games, scheduled for June 14-21 in Princeton, New Jersey.
Bird said she hopes the Young Athletes Festival will inspire people to start young athlete programs in their own communities: six-week sessions that culminate in a field day similar to the one held last week in Yarmouth.
“We train people to be coaches and we provide all the equipment – snacks, T-shirts, medals,” Bird said. “You can do it anytime. It’s a great opportunity, especially if you like little ones – and you have a lot of energy.”
Ria Barna watched proudly on Friday as her 6-year-old son, Methos, a student at Songo Locks School in Naples, ran from one activity to the next. A flock of Harrison students urged on Methos, a playful kid with a shock of blond hair who stands not much taller than a toddler, with hugs and high fives.
“It’s a great preliminary thing to get him involved in team sports down the road,” Barna said. “And the eighth grade volunteers have been great with him. He’s very social, so he loves it, he loves all the attention.”
With help and encouragement from eighth-graders at Harrison Middle School, Henry Adams, 6, jumps hurdles at Special Olympics Maine’s second annual Young Athletes Festival on May 23 at the Yarmouth school.