Let The Games Begin!

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8th Annual LABBB Collaborative Special Olympics

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Back in the late 1970’s the Special Olympics started its first local event at Lexington High School with approximately thirty high school athletes competing from the LABBB Collaborative. Each year the event had a special guest; a famous Boston sports athlete who supported the Special Olympics, these stars included: Jerry Remy, Ronny Lee, Bobby Orr, and Dave Cowens. The event was first organized by a Lexington High School Physical Education Teacher and the Lexington student leader volunteers and was held in the Lexington High School Field House. One of those student leaders was 1980 Lexington High School graduate Paula Rizzo. Paula, Special Olympics Director, has been working for the LABBB Collaborative since 1985 and currently is the Integration and Recreational Coordinator.

In the early 1980’s the Special Olympics took a long hiatus and in 2003 the proposal to re-introduce the Special Olympics back to Lexington was starting to be discussed. Van Seasholes, Lexington High School Principal in 2004, gave his full support for this event and the Lexington High School community came together to revitalize the Special Olympics. The success of these games is possible by the collaboration between staff from the LABBB Collaborative and Lexington High School. The bridge that brought this collaboration together was the Best Buddies, volunteers from the Lexington High School who planned and organized the event in the spring of 2004. The event was a huge success with about one hundred athletes and eighty Best Buddies from the Lexington High School.

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Planning this event starts a year in advance with meetings between the LABBB staff and Best Buddies and it takes a significant amount of work to make it successful. Juliet Eyuard, Lexington High School Senior and Best Buddies President, has been an incredible leader for this organization and all the Best Buddies events have made a significant impact on the LABBB students. The night before the event, Best Buddies volunteers come set up and make sure every detail is in place before they leave. They are excited about the event and their spirit is high because they know each and every athlete is going to be here on the field giving their very best.

On Wednesday, May 11, the 8th annual Special Olympics games took place at the Lexington track and field. This year the event had over two hundred athletes from the LABBB Collaborative elementary, middle and high school programs, and an amazing four-hundred student volunteers from the Best Buddies. The Best Buddies are students who attend Lexington, Bedford, and Arlington High School and the Chenery Middle School in Belmont. Without the commitment and dedication of the Best Buddies this event could not be organized with this many athletes.

The procession begins promptly at 9:00am as six-hundred athletes and Best Buddies walk towards the podium on the Lexington track and is led by the Lexington Town Selectman and School Committee members. The opening ceremonies begin as Natalie Cohen, Lexington High School Principal and Master of ceremonies for the Special Olympics, introduces the athletes by classroom which represent all LABBB programs located in all five member districts. The athletes gather behind the podium as the spectators are filling the bleachers and tents as they listen to Jackie O’Leary, LABBB Student, sing our National anthem. Natalie welcomes the community of Athletes, Parents, and Teachers attending the 8th annual games. Next, we hear the Athlete Oath, recited by Michael Avakian, and then the Official Oath from Lexington Athletic Director Naomi Martin and finally Paula Rizzo gives the Coaches oath. The torch lighting ceremony begins as a Lexington police officer and two athletes appear raising the Olympic torch approaching the podium. The Police officer reaches to light the Olympic Flame and the Games Begin.

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Along the track and field myriad vendors are lined up serving food, coffee, and lunch for the community. Under the Olympic tent we hear the DJ playing music which adds a nice flavor to the event and athletes come to rest, dance, get their face painted by one of the Best Buddies or just socialize with friends.

The spirit of these games is more than just the sporting events; it brings a community of people together to support the athletes and raise awareness of students with disabilities. The Best Buddies and the LABBB connection could not happen without the LABBB students being part of our public schools. This opportunity is what makes great events like this possible. We don’t have any famous sports stars hosting, but we have Paula Rizzo and the Best Buddies!

*This event cannot operate without the support of fund raising monies. The “LABBB Legends” a group of LABBB staff, have formed a fundraising effort for the past two years. For the second year, they jumped into the frigid waters of Revere Beach in the beginning of March to support the Special Olympics. This year alone the LABBB Legends raised over $6,000. We need to congratulate them and say thank you for your commitment.

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