Jeanne Goacher lit up with enthusiasm every time she saw more students zip toward the finish line during a special needs track and field event Friday at the Columbia High School multi-purpose field.
Ask the newly appointed special education director about the most rewarding aspect of the event and she’ll simply point to one of the special needs students with a glowing smile on their face, surrounded by a cheering crowd of administrators, staff and volunteers.
“It’s that feeling of success when they cross the finish line,” Goacher said.
Students in early childhood through high school came from Millstadt, Dupo and Freeburg to participate with Columbia special needs kids for a total of close to 100 athletes.
At the event, a frisbee toss replaced discus, a softball throw replaced shot put, and kids also had the chance to run the 100-meter dash, compete in hurdles and leap into sand during the long jump.
Each time someone crossed the finish line, they received a ribbon, many congratulatory remarks from cheerful faces, and sometimes a “high five” or pat on the head.
Goacher said sponsors included a multitude of businesses and organizations: Walmart, Schnucks, Schneider’s, Columbia Rotary Club and Dairy Queen among them.
Volunteer efforts came from many different sources, including, district employees, high school volunteers, occupational and physical therapy staff from TheraKids, and a group of college students.
Parkview Elementary fourth grade students in Karen Dent’s class, along with other students in the district, came to the event to cheer on all those participating.
Additionally, many CHS students sat in the bleachers to support the student-athletes.
The children went on to a picnic at Bolm-Schuhkraft Memorial City Park with Columbia firemen, as well as Columbia police officer Zach Hopkins and his K-9 companion, at the end of the track meet.
Lori Hankammer came out to support her daughter, Morgan, from Millstadt. Many other parents also made it out to the event.
“I think it’s great,” Hankammer said of Friday’s track meet. “It gives special needs kids who maybe don’t do other sports a chance for them to get out and have a little fun.”