Attending the All Schools Special Track and Field Meet for the first time earlier this month is something Amanda Newby won’t soon forget.
Her four students soared across the finish line with their superhero capes flying behind them. One of their siblings pointed out how lucky she is to have a brother who runs fast.
One student smiled as he met a person dressed as a Disney movie character, another student and his grandmother grinned from ear to ear as they did the do-si-do and a student photographer who went along with the group shared his prizes with other students.
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To cap off the two-day event, seventh-grader Conner Sears was announced as the winner of the Bradley and Kenny Simpson Memorial Mental Attitude Award.
Newby, the special needs teacher at Brownstown Central Middle School, had nominated Sears for the honor, which is given to a student who demonstrates spirit and determination for one’s self and others.
The award named after two brothers has been given each year since 1983, when the meet was affiliated with Special Olympics. Only one other Jackson County student — Medora’s Brittany Reynolds in 1997 — has received it.
For the next year, the traveling plaque will be on display at the school.
“I was thrilled to see Conner earn the mental attitude award and believe he was very deserving,” said Newby, who is finishing her first year teaching at Brownstown Central. “Conner couldn’t stand still from excitement when he went up to get his award. He was jumping, running and squealing with excitement.”
She said a mental attitude award is the most important award a person can earn.
“All the talent in the world would mean little without a positive mental attitude,” she said. “Conner’s positive mental attitude drives him to overcome physical limitations to the point where he is limitless.”
Conner maintains high spirits and determination at all times, Newby said.
“He is a treasure as a student, and the way he feels about being a part of Brownstown schools is evident by his huge smile, squeal of delight and hug he shares with staff the moment he enters the building,” Newby wrote in her nomination letter. “Conner has limited use of his right side, but this does not slow him down when climbing up blowup rock walls or running across the gym floor to chase the ball he has spun with precision.”
His high spirits and determination also extend to others’ efforts, she said.
“He is always willing to roll a ball over to a classmate or share turns at the maypole,” Newby wrote. “Conner is quick to join with his classmates’ activities and encourage their participation and perseverance. His bright eyes and happy heart seem to be cheering, ‘All right, you can do it.’”
That was the case as he participated in the track and field meet at Bedford North Lawrence High School earlier this month.
This marked the first time for the middle school to participate, but Brownstown elementary and high school students have gone for 10 to 15 years.
With rain both days, the meet was moved indoors, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the 300-plus athletes from seven area school corporations involved in Joint Services — Brownstown Central, Medora, Eastern Greene, Mitchell, North Lawrence, Orleans and Shoals. That included students in kindergarten through 12th grade, graduates and group home residents.
The first day consisted of individual running events and relays in the morning and Wiffle ball toss, soft Frisbee toss and standing long jump in the afternoon. In between, people danced to music played by a disc jockey.
On the second day, there were final race events, more music and dancing and an awards presentation.
For Brownstown, the motto was “We did not come here to be average. We came to be awesome.” Going along with a superhero theme, participants could wear a cape and/or a mask.
General education students from each school also assisted the competitors as needed and volunteered at various stations at the event.
“The focus of every person involved in the event was to make sure the participants had a terrific time, and that was accomplished,” Newby said.
Lindsey Goshorn, a special needs teacher at Brownstown Elementary, said this was her 10th year attending the event. She said it gives every student the chance to be a star.
“While they may struggle academically in the classroom or have motor skill weaknesses that make physical activities difficult, this event celebrates every students’ effort and differences,” she said.
No matter what school they are from, everyone encourages each other, she said.
“It is very encouraging instead of being viewed as a competition among schools. I often recognize some students from other schools each year and can see growth and improvements in their abilities each year,” Goshorn said. “This event also builds confidence in my students.”
She said the high school helpers paired with her students are able to build relationships, and her students also interact and make friends with people from other schools.
“I think Mr. (Bob) Millman, our bus driver, summed up the event perfectly when he told me on the way there, ‘I like this trip because I never see anything but a smile,’” Goshorn said.
This was Brownstown Central High School’s 15th year participating.
Special needs teacher Deb Schwartz said two weeks before the meet, her seven competitors practiced the various events and talked about good sportsmanship, what it means to have spirit and why it’s important to cheer for classmates and other participants.
They also created signs and posters to decorate their area during the event and learned spirit songs to chant.
In the meet, junior Tyler Wheeler placed first in the standing long jump, and freshman Caleb Trimble took first in the soft Frisbee throw.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my students,” Schwartz said. “They take the games seriously and try and do their best. They cheer on their own classmates and others. They have a lot of fun, as well. It is a wonderful opportunity for my students to show the true Brownstown spirit. My students learn how to work together as a team and how to compete in a positive environment.”
Schwartz said she liked seeing the teen volunteers go from being shy and insecure with her students to cheering, laughing and dancing with them and seeing the athletes smile and react to people cheering for them.
She said the event wouldn’t be possible without the support of the school corporation.
“It takes a whole team of people to make this event happen, from the teacher’s aides all the way up to principal, bus manager, superintendent to school board,” Schwartz said. “Going to the All Schools Special Track and Field Meet is the highlight of the school year for my students, and I try really hard to make it a special event for them.”
Medora had five elementary students, one junior high student and a graduate participate this year.
Dakota McMurray received a trophy for winning the elementary girls 100-meter race, and Matthew Inscoe received a trophy for placing first in the elementary boys 50-meter race.
It was special education teacher Misti Wieneke’s third time going to the meet.
“We have focused on growth mindset from the beginning of the year, so the students have heard repeatedly that if someone tells them that they can’t do something, prove them wrong,” she said. “Special track and field gives the students an opportunity to try without fear of failure or ridicule. They know they may not win an event, but they give it their best and don’t give up.”
Knowing they aren’t receiving a letter grade or a pass or fail result for their efforts eliminates pressure many of them feel at school in addition to their challenges, she said.
“While all participants receive a participation medal, only the top finishers receive trophies; however, the main focus is fun and camaraderie,” Wieneke said. “Each and every participant is happy at the end of the event, whether it’s for their peers who won a trophy or because they themselves had a blast trying.”