About 125 special needs student-athletes from Hamburg, Tulpehocken, Fleetwood and Kutztown participated in the Hawk Olympics held at Hamburg High School Stadium on May 8.

“The purpose of Hawk Olympics is for our students with special needs to really enjoy a day all about them and for their teachers, parents, administrators and community members to come out and support them and just have a great day,” said event organizer Alyssa Fink, Hamburg High School Life Skills Support Teacher.

This is Hamburg’s second year hosting the Hawk Olympics with Tulpehocken, Fleetwood and Kutztown area school districts. Previously the event included nine Berks County schools.

Hawk Olympics is a track and field meet for students with special needs. Track events include shot put, softball throw, standing long jump and running long jump, basketball, running events and wheelchair events.

“This helps the student-athletes because it just makes them feel important and valued. They’re so proud of themselves,” said Fink. “Not only do we have athletes who are competing today but we also have students and student-athletes who are volunteering. It helps them too because it develops a sense of a positive relationship with students of various abilities.”

Her favorite part is seeing parents come out and have a good time.

“It’s great when everyone can be together, smiling and having a great memorable experience,” said Fink. “The overall feeling, just by looking around, is pure happiness because everyone is happy to be here. Again it’s all about cheering them on and making them feel good.”

Fink thanks everyone for their support. “We couldn’t host such a big event without everyone’s help.”

Kutztown Superintendent George Fiore said Hawk Olympics is an outstanding event, he said the students absolutely love it.

“They get to show off their talent and they get their own special time, which is invaluable for them,” said Fiore. “All of these schools coming together for the common purpose of recognizing the skills and talents all of our special needs students have, it brings camaraderie. It brings a sense of community.”

Fiore noted that because many of the student-athletes do not have the opportunity to participate in PIAA sports, this is geared especially for the skills and talents of special needs students.

“For them, it gives value, it gives self-confidence, it gives them their own time to be celebrated,” said Fiore. “It’s just really heartwarming, it really is.”

Fleetwood paraprofessional Fay Absalom attended Hawk Olympics for the first time this year.

“It was fun. Everybody got to participate in a couple of events and they seemed to have enjoyed it,” said Absalom. “What I liked is that they cheered each other on, so it’s great.”

Jamie Himmelreich, also a paraprofessional in the Fleetwood Life Skills room, said, “The kids love it. They were really excited this morning. It gives them something to look forward to and work toward and they just like to get out of the classroom sometimes. I think we all do.”

Tulpehocken Life Skills teacher Victoria Kramer loves the community involvement.

“All of our sponsors are sponsors we recognize from the community.”

Sponsors provided food for student-athletes. Medals were donated by parents.

“Getting the kids out in the community and having them socialize with each other is really cool to see because they don’t have that opportunity a lot,” said Kramer. “Their excitement for the games itself is… they’ve been practicing in gym class all week … so they very much feel like a part of the team they came with and they take it seriously which is nice.”

Tulpehocken student-athlete Jacob McQullen, smiling, said, “It’s fun and awesome. We get to go out and do stuff and be outside.”

Kramer explained that McQullen is an 11th grader in a transition program for which he works at St. Joseph’s Hospital during the day and to miss work is a big deal. He had to do a really good job at work for the past couple of weeks to earn the chance to participate in the Hawk Olympics.

The fact that he was able to participate in Hawk Olympics makes him feel “awesome.”

Hamburg 7th graders Ace Gonzalez-Miller and Tony DiGaurdi, both age 13, enjoyed participating in the Hawk Olympics.

“It’s good. Racing and the people,” said Ace.

“Everything (is fun),” said Tony. “I got first place in racing.”

After running in the 100-meter race, Tulpehocken 8th grader Samantha Morais ran back to her teachers, jumping and smiling and showing the ribbon she won.

Kutztown student-athlete Winston Lang, a 9th grader, participated in wheelchair basketball, softball throw, bowling and the wheelchair race, with his favorite being basketball.

When asked what he thought about the Hawk Olympics, Lang said, “Good.” He felt, “Happy.”

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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