The fourth annual Athletes Challenging Each Other Olympics event took place Friday in Columbia, with over 100 student-athletes with disabilities participating in several sporting activities.
The event, hosted by the Columbia school district, saw students with disabilities from the Columbia, Dupo, Millstadt and Freeburg school districts compete in various athletic events.
“I feel the event went very well,” Columbia Director of Special Education Jeanne Goacher said. “Our athletes had a great time competing in the various sports stations. Our Columbia High School and Columbia Middle School general education athletes and students did an amazing job working and encouraging the athletes.”
The event is one the school district has been hosting for four years.
Each year, students from the general education program come to help the students in the special education program at the various stations or cheer them on from the stands.
Goacher said the goal of the event is “to bring-non-disabled and disabled peers together, have a unified program and promote acceptance.”
At this year’s event, students with special needs participated in a number of stations with activities from football, T-ball, basketball, track and field, soccer and miniature golf.
Goacher said all those activities are enjoyable to the students in the special education program.
“They absolutely enjoy the day because it’s all about them,” she explained. “They just have a great time playing the games and things like that. How it benefits after that is we have our students walking the halls. So we have our non-disabled peers with their disabled peers walking the halls and they know each other because they’ve seen each other and they’ve worked together. So it just allows for that acceptance.”
Goacher also noted that student-athletes are often leaders in the schools, so them showing acceptance of their peers with special needs sets a positive example for the other students.
They also get some benefits out the experience, according to Goacher.
“I think it gives them the perspective of some of the challenges that students with disabilities face every day,” she said. “And they just absolutely enjoy it. I’ve got kids who want to get on the waiting list to help out.”
After the ACE Olympics, students ate lunch and received a visit from local first responders, who spoke to the participants about their jobs and equipment.
The event was sponsored by the Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools program, Columbia Quarterback Club, McDonald’s, Walmart, Schubert’s Smokehouse and Meat Packing Company and Marie’s Ice Cream Shoppe.