Community Education Panthers Win Gold

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Article by: Jody Davidson

On Sunday, January 8, seven community education students and four coaches participated in the Special Olympics District Snowshoe Competition at the Bartlett Hills Golf Club, in Bartlett, which is about 40 miles west of Cicero. It was exciting to see the students RUN, yes, I said run, in snowshoes. It certainly is something I couldn’t do without falling or tripping over myself.

The team members were Daniel Corcoran (Stickney), Richard Gabel (Berwyn), James Hatton (Cicero), Keith Ramirez (Lyons), Brian Rogers (Riverside), Fernando Serrano (Cicero) and Darius Villa (Chicago). They were coached by Mary Jo Buongiorno, a Community Education instructor, who was assisted by Joe Buongiorno and Ann Lewis, who are also Community Education instructors. A last minute addition to the coaching staff was none other than this reporter, Jody Davidson, Instructional Program Associate.

The students enrolled in a community education class, Special Olympics Snowshoeing, which started after Thanksgiving, and had the last two sessions the first week the college was open, just before the competition. In the class, which met twice a week, the students learned how to walk and run on the snowshoes, both inside the “E” building and outside on the lawn and the snow. Many of these students had never been on snowshoes before, let alone participate in a snowshoe competition.

One of the students, Brian Rogers, who wears a brace on both legs, used poles (like ski poles) to help him keep his balance. The first time the coaches timed him, his time was over 7 minutes. He had a hard time staying on his feet and fell a lot. He wasn’t even sure if he would actually complete. However, when the qualifying times were sent to the Illinois Special Olympics District Office, his time had been cut down to just over five minutes.

On competition day, he was prepared. He had learned to keep a routine with his feet and the poles in a rhythmic pattern so he could keep his balance. If an athlete falls, the coaches are not allowed to help the athlete get back on his feet, and the athlete would be disqualified. Brian’s goal was just to finish the race.

In the heat in which he competed, there were only two persons, each in a different category, so he was able to concentrate on his form. It turned out that he didn’t use the poles for the entire race, he didn’t fall and he cut his time down to a minute and a half!

Brian truly demonstrated the Special Olympics Oath, which everyone recites at the Opening Ceremony: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

One heat of the 50 meter race included three of MC’s athletes competing against each other. Jim took gold, Keith took silver and Rich took bronze. The three of them were supportive and excited for one another as you can see in the picture.

In order to go on to the state competition, the athletes must win a gold medal. Of the seven athletes that competed from Morton, five are going to state! Gold medal winners were:

Daniel Corcoran -- 50 meter

Jim Hatton -- 50 meter & 200 meter

Keith Ramirez -- 100 meter

Brian Rogers -- 50 meter

Darius Villa -- 100 meter

The state competition will be held on February 7, 8 & 9, at Chestnut Mountain Resort, in Galena, Illinois.

Participation in Special Olympics is part of the Community Education enrichment classes for adults with intellectual disabilities. In addition to the snowshoeing class, the department is offering several sections of the “Skills for Daily Living” class. Additional classes are being added as the program grows. This spring, a new class will debut: “Individual and Team Soccer Skills for Special Olympics”. This class is to prepare participants for the district competition on Sunday, May 7, at Hinsdale High School, in Darien.

Plans are underway to become a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. This effort is supported by Student Activities, CAB (Campus Activity Board), President Fields, the Athletic Department and our department. Morton is one of the first 17 colleges in the state of Illinois to petition to become a Unified Champion School.

This designation means that activities, including Special Olympics sports, become inclusive. In sports, that means that students with intellectual disabilities participate alongside students without intellectual disabilities in Special Olympics events. The sport Morton will kick this off with is bocce. An event will be held this spring to introduce the idea to the college community, followed by a class in the summer to prepare for the fall competition.

In addition to sports, the students participate in other activities on-campus, such as socials and college sporting events. If you look at Morton’s Facebook page, you’ll see a video of a dance sponsored by CAB in December. Most of the students dancing are from the Community Education program.

Advocacy for inclusion is another component of being a Unified Champion School. Watch for more information this spring about the superhero campaign.