CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Country Day School bore the April showers in the name of its 34-year tradition this week through hosting the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics Spring Games.
More than 500 upper school students and 60 faculty and staff volunteered and hosted more than 1,100 Special Olympics athletes, ranging from adults to 4-year-olds.
Country Day suspends classes for all upper school students to serve as “buddies” to athletes and help coordinate various activities and events during the games.
The school’s former dean started the tradition more than 30 years ago, as it was an important cause to him and that passion has spread throughout the school community.
“The kids love it; the faculty love it. We know the athletes appreciate it, so we kept it going,” said Ken Mcnish, a biology teacher and 10th-grade dean.
He hopes Country Day students realize a special role they play to the athletes.
“They can do a lot by just being accessible and be available,” Mcnish said. “When the (athletes) do whatever it is – whether its softball throw or a run – we’re just being there to support them. At the end of the day, students get the idea that giving a little bit of themselves is an absolutely amazing thing to give back to people they don’t know, but hopefully continue to know.”
Junior Brooks Riley took the Country Day tradition to the next level, making it a part of her life year-round.
She volunteers every Saturday in the fall coaching a Special Olympics soccer team and the swim team in the spring.
Freshman year, she worked with one of the Special Olympics athletes at the annual event and really enjoyed the experience. By her sophomore year, she developed a passion for being a “buddy” to the athletes. Her teacher, Tadd Daniels, took notice and suggested she look at other opportunities with Special Olympics.
“I thought, ‘Maybe, I’m good at this,’” Brooks said. “I knew I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Special Olympics Mecklenburg County Director Greg Morrill suggested she help with the soccer team. She’s enjoyed it ever since.
“It was a great way to give back,” she said. “It’s been not only fun, but beneficial to the people I’m helping.”
Prior to coaching, Brooks said she had minimal interaction with people with disabilities, but the experience helped push her outside her comfort zone.
“I learned with people with disabilities are really similar to us. People think they don’t have as much in common with us,” the junior said.
Brooks felt inspired by the athletes and their ability to persevere.
“At lot of athletes team me lesson by their drive to want to be better, which inspires me to want to be better,” Brooks, who is part of the school’s IB program, said.
IB CAS Coordinator Lee-Anne Black said this opportunity has set Brooks on a positive path to want to continue to reach individuals with disabilities.
“They’ve had an impact on my life and that makes me much happier,” Brooks said. “They make me happy and they teach me things that they don’t realize they are.”