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Special Olympics Field Day Much More Than a Game

BETHANY, W.Va. – After a Sunday filled with goals, baskets, touchdowns, points and smiles, one by one the participants in the Bethany College Special Olympics Field Day stepped to the podium to receive a medal to recognize their accomplishments.

Bethany student-volunteers set up stations in football, soccer, basketball and volleyball to teach the participants the basics of each sport.

Though some of the athletes started the stations timidly, they were quickly rewarded with smiles, cheers and high-fives.

“Today, celebrate everything that makes you unique, regardless of if you have a unique ability or not – because really everybody does,” student organizer Allison Paxton said. “Sometimes there’s a label on it, and sometimes there isn’t. And I thank you all for being a part of your family these past few years. It really does mean the world to me.”

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Paxton, a psychology major from Canonsburg, Pa., set out to form a partnership between Bethany and the Special Olympics as a freshman and organized the Field Day at the start of her sophomore year.

Bethany College first hosted the Special Olympics Field Day in 2019 and planned to make it an annual event.

With COVID-19 forcing the Field Day’s cancellation in 2020, Paxton said she is grateful that Bethany could host the event in her senior year.

“I think it went really well, for a second event,” she said. “I’ve seen so much improvement and growth between the athletes, the committee, the volunteers, everyone, and I am looking forward to watching it grow as we move forward.”

Many of the student-volunteers participate in Bison athletic programs. Paxton is on the track team.

The day began with stretching and a game of Duck Duck Goose. Then the participants were divided into small groups and spent about 30 minutes at each station.

The midday dance party and the football tackling dummy seemed to be among the favorite activities of the day.

Parents of several athletes who participated in the 2019 Field Day said their children had so much fun they couldn’t wait to take part again.

The event also served as a reunion of sorts for athlete Matteo Filippelli and Bethany freshman Drake Hukill, a running back on the Bison football team. The two became buddies in 2011 when they were part of the Wellsburg Colts youth football program and continued through Brooke High School.

Paxton said the athletes are why she became involved in the Special Olympics. As a child, Paxton learned of her own Asperger’s diagnosis, a form of high-functioning autism. She describes it as a closely guarded secret because she worried about not fitting in.

In fact, many of her friends only learned of the diagnosis when she began planning the 2019 Special Olympics event.

“I thought there would never be a point that I was needed and celebrated,” she said. “That’s why this means so much to me – that everyone can come here and play sports, which is something I’ve done my whole life, and just have fun for a day.”

With Paxton set to graduate in May, sophomore Madison McDonald, of Jacksonville, Fla., assisted with the event and will take on the organizer role next year.

“I’m just really excited that I’ll be able to do this next year,” McDonald said. “And I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get more athletes. I hope to make Allison proud next year.”

McDonald, an elementary education minor with a minor in special education, said she started Special Olympics at her high school and has a brother who has autism.

“I just knew I wanted to get involved,” McDonald said.

McDonald’s grandfather and Bethany College Trustee Doug Goin awarded the medals to the participating athletes.

“I think Bethany is a tremendously special place,” he told the families in attendance. “I hope you had a chance to experience that a little bit today. I want to first thank you for coming and your family for giving us your time today. We appreciate your support of our students. The Special Olympics committee has done a great job of organizing this. A lot of time and effort goes into it, and they did a great job.”

ABOUT BETHANY COLLEGE

Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.

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