Fun for everyone at ACE Olympics

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Little Jaylen Brooks prepares to make a touchdown of sorts as classmates, now teammates, send him encouragement.

Following a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, students with disabilities from across several local school districts gathered once again for the highly-anticipated ACE Olympics. 

The Athletes Challenging Each Other Olympics, hosted by the Columbia School District, saw students with disabilities ages 3-22 compete Friday in everything from golf to track, all while being cheered on by high school and middle school athletes, classes of their peers and even seniors from Integrity Healthcare of Columbia. 

And while the day went on without a hitch, the journey to its return wasn’t always smooth sailing, said Columbia Director of Special Education Jeanne Goacher. 

“I was a little gun shy to schedule a date just because of COVID rearing its head up again, but we just made the decision,” Goacher said. “It’s outdoors, we could make it happen, so we just went for it. We did not want another year to pass.” 

The event’s return was celebrated not only by the Columbia school district, but also Dupo, Millstadt, and Freeburg students. 

“This is a great event, and why not share it with other districts?” Goacher said. 

Through 15-minute rotations, kids enjoyed golf, basketball, football, baseball and track events. Columbia High School student-athletes led participants in activities relating to their sport, while cheers from classes and seniors from Integrity echoed from the stands. 

Kyran Wilkerson, a Dupo elementary school student, said his favorite event was soccer. 

“It reminds me of Wii Sports,” he said with a smile. 

For his friend Hunter Edwards, the best part of the day was not related to a single activity. 

“(My favorite part of the day is) spending time with my friends and teachers,” Edwards said. 

Goacher said she hoped the young athletes learned four main lessons: “perseverance, always try your best and just have fun!”

She said that the athletes with disabilities were not the only ones learning valuable lessons that day, though. 

“I think this day is just as important to our gen ed kids because then they understand students with disabilities a little better, it’s more of that inclusive feel. The main focus of today is inclusion and getting kids involved in sports and active,” Goacher said. 

Inclusivity, she said, spans beyond ACE Olympics. Now, both students in general education classes and special education classes know each other after being introduced at the ACE Olympics and will continue these new friendships in school. 

Goacher said the day could not have been possible without student volunteers – who were present during every part of the day, from events to helping classes move from station to station – her assistant Elysia Sepich and the event’s sponsors. 

Sponsors included the Columbia Quarterback Club, Columbia PTA, Schubert’s Smokehouse, Dairy Queen and Integrity Healthcare. 

Katelyn Schwoeppe guides Alex Lehrmann to make an awesome t-ball hit.  
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