Everyone a winner, on court and off Students work with disabled

March 01, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

When the officials called his name, 15-year-old Jerome Gregory "Greg" Ellis Jr. patted his father on the back and sauntered to the registration table as if he had already won a ribbon in yesterday's Basketball Skills Competition at West Middle School.

Fifteen minutes later, he wore a huge grin as he stood on the first-place winners' step and received a blue ribbon.

"I asked him was he nervous and he just laughed," said Jerome Gregory Ellis Sr., a special education teacher at South Carroll High School. "He hasn't even had any time to practice."

Practice or no, everyone came away a winner in the event, co-sponsored by the Special Olympics and the Student Alliance In Learning (SAIL), a community service group at the Westminster school.

SAIL's 23 members helped organize and officiate the event and spent eight weeks training their school's athletes to participate.

"I like working with the people," said Michel Sears, 12, in her second year with SAIL. "They appreciate the things you do for them, and it helps them get higher self-esteem."

Tom Hill, a West Middle School physical education teacher and SAIL coordinator, said the students in the group have not only welcomed the opportunity to work with people who are developmentally disabled, but handle the task with maturity -- a word not usually associated with middle school students.

"The SAIL students not only take on a lot of responsibility for their ages, but they can do the job as well as anyone I've seen work with special-needs students," Mr. Hill said.

For the Special Olympians, the competition gives them a moment to shine.

Grouped in threes by age, each of the nearly 50 Olympians, ages 6 to 72, mastered tasks that challenged their hand-eye coordination to earn either a first-, second-, or third-place ribbon.

Olympian Libby McKendrick worked her cheery grin into her performance as she raced down a 10-meter lane, bouncing the basketball as fast as she could in the dribbling event.

Carroll Green -- at 69 one of the oldest athletes in the competition -- moved easily about the court in the shooting event as he made baskets at various distances from the hoop.

And though the basketball was almost the size of his torso, tiny Billy Francis managed to complete the wall pass event, where athletes had to throw the basketball inside a square taped to a wall two meters away.

And then there was the awards ceremony, which was repeated as each group of three Olympians completed all three events.

"Hey, Dad, I got first place!" 9-year-old Danny Wean Jr., tied for the high spot, screeched to the bleachers where his father, Danny Sr., waved back. "I've got to share first place, but that's all right."

Each participant had to share the cheers of the 150 people in the crowd, but there were enough to go around.

One section of the stands hooted and chanted so loudly they could have been mistaken for the audience on Arsenio Hall's late-night TV talk show.

"I think the more support we show them, the more enthusiasm they will feel for the competition," said Stephanie Wardenfelt, whose son, Nicholas, 13, participated. "They will feel more excited about the whole thing."

The crowd's cheers excited young Brian Iafrate so much that, when he crossed the finish line after the dribbling event, he tossed his basketball high into the air.

It fell smoothly into the basket seven feet above his head.

Wrong event, but nonetheless, a job well done.

"This is what it's all about," Mr. Hill said. "It's not about who wins or loses in the games, but the spirit of the competition and the knowledge that working hard produces positive results."

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