Special Olympics brings special fun

What do you get when you combine hundreds of kids, dozens of volunteers, countless family members and CLOWNS? Fun for all at the Special Olympics!

The event was held Wednesday at SUNY Fredonia in Steele Hall and in Dod’s Grove, with plenty of room for everyone to run, jump, throw and more. An Olympic Village was set up on the basketball court with games for everyone, and the tennis courts were used for the girls softball throw. With the sun shining down and a light breeze cooling off the athletes, no one could have asked for a more perfect venue.

Organizer and Team Coordinator Maureen Bialaszewski has been at it for 29 years, but the hard work and countless rewards have never changed.

“It’s always a lot of work, but the kids make it worth it,” she said. “May is always a crunch — but then we get here, and we see all of the kids smiling and having a great time, and it’s so wonderful. (It’s also) a wonderful atmosphere. The sense of community is amazing. Not only do we have all the kids and their families, but we have (so many) volunteers!”

Bialaszewski said this year was basically a record-setter, with 365 athletes participating and more than 80 student volunteers from area schools. That doesn’t count other volunteers from the community, teachers and administrators, school officials, or the hundreds of moms, dads, abuelos, abuelas, siblings, aunties, neighbors and other supporters who came out to cheer on the kids.

Preston Lipczynski, a 7-year-old student at Dunkirk’s School 5, told the OBSERVER his favorite event of the day was “the running, because you win!” His grandmother pointed out that at the time, he hadn’t yet run that particular race, but he just shrugged his shoulders. The OBSERVER admired his confidence (and his smile).

Thomas Silleman, 13, from BOCES LoGuidice Center, likes the javelin throw best, because it seemed like the most fun event to him. His mother, Joan, loves that he gets to participate fully in a day of fun.

“I’ve been (attending the Special Olympics) for 14 years,” she said. “I have a daughter who was involved (before Thomas). Here, they get to do things like a (typical) kid. They get to have fun with everyone else.”

“They really love getting to compete,” Bialaszewski added. “They love the races — they’re definitely the highlight of the day. They also love playing the games in the Olympic Village.”

Bialaszewski thanked all of the volunteers and organizers, and wanted to give a special shout-out to the clowns, who were students from BOCES’ P-TECH Academy. They dressed up, painted their faces, and even twisted balloon animals for the kids! Now that’s going the extra mile to make kids smile.

Chautauqua County Legislator and County Executive Hopeful George Borrello (R-Hanover) attended the games to cheer the kids on, and told the OBSERVER how much he enjoyed the event’s spirit.

“This is where everyone comes together for the children,” he said. “The Torch Run is fantastic; those folks raise money so the athletes don’t have to pay to participate. The camaraderie and community support is amazing here … all the kids are able to come out and have fun and enjoy the day. Out here, they’re all equal.”

The motto of the Special Olympics is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” All the kids said this with Bialasewski to open up the day, adding on a promise to have fun, too. And, with sno-cones, balloon animals, friendly competition and roaring applause, that’s exactly what they did.