Dodge City High School puts a twist on Special Olympics, creates its own event after COVID cancelations

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DODGE CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – Since 1968, Special Olympics has been a worldwide movement promoting inclusion and giving adults and children with intellectual disabilities opportunities to compete in sports and athletic competitions.

But for the past two years, many events have been canceled due to the pandemic. At Dodge City High School, teacher, Mary McGroarty, wanted to change that.

“With COVID it’s been canceled the last two years and so it just dawned on me, I’m like, ‘I want to do something for them here,’” said physical education teacher, Mary McGroarty.

She created Red Demon Olympics, an event helping keep the spirit of Special Olympics alive.

Named for the Dodge City High School mascot, athletes in the adapted physical education(P.E.) class paraded in the school’s fieldhouse, Friday, for the final day of competition.

McGroarty, says the athletes have been preparing for weeks to showcase their talents.

“Every Monday, [the students ask] ‘Is today the Olympics? Do we start the Olympics today?’ So it’s been fun to see their excitement build as the day drew closer, and then of course this week they were rearing to go,” said McGroarty.

Eighteen athletes went head to head all week in competitions such as baseball, basketball, and cornhole among others.

The activities help students build social, physical, and motor skills. “It was so exciting to finally watch it play out, having all the kids just be so excited for this whole entire week. They’ve been asking us when it was going to happen and it finally happened,” said class aid, Lauren Gleason.

This was the first year for Red Demon Olympics and those involved wanted to create a memorable experience for the athletes. 

To do so, they incorporated the singing of the national anthem, the school’s drill team cheering during the games, a live audience filled with community members and fellow students, and to top off the event was a medal ceremony at the end.

“I realized that this was really much bigger than I anticipated. For so many kids, this was their moment that they’ve never had before,” said McGroarty. “Honestly, everything we do should be about the kids, and I felt like today was all about them.”

For athlete Dara Hernandez, she says she won her gold medal for her dad. “I won it because he told me to win it for him,” said Red Demon Olympics athlete, Dara Hernandez.

For McGroarty, who has been teaching P.E. for more than three decades, she says, this was a highlight of her career. “It’s the best part of my day because these kids are so happy and so appreciative. every day they come to pe, they are excited. doesn’t matter what we’re doing,” said McGroarty.

Across the world, there are nearly 6 million Special Olympic athletes. For McGroarty she says events like this give those kids a chance to shine.

McGroarty went on to say without the help from the community, class aids, and companies that supported the event such as Bredfeldt Oil and Winans Oil, the competition wouldn’t have been as amazing.

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