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JBLM family heads up special needs effort

Inclusion at Steilacoom High a first

As his brother, Cooper, watches, Zeke McCarley throws a noodle javelin downrange during the 1st annual Day of Champions track and field event held at Steilacoom High School. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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The Steilacoom Historical School District made history last Friday.

On the sun-drenched Blair Taylor Athletic Field at Steilacoom High School, more than 120 differently abled children from the district's schools participated in the first Day of Champions' track and field event.

"We're so proud to be doing this," exclaimed Kathi Weight, the district's superintendent.  "It is fun to celebrate our kids, and our teachers and students are truly behind this."

The Day of Champions is a non-competitive event for students with disabilities. Created by Erick Weight of the North Thurston School District in 2003, the theme of the day was about awareness.

Students competed in a shuttle run, noodle javelin throw, big ball obstacle course, bowling and other fun events.

"These students are not outcasts," said Midori Lewis, a junior and Associated Student Body member, who helped coordinate the day's events. "Today is a day for them."

Kaci McCarley clearly understands the need for awareness and similarities.

"Gone are the days of hiding these kids; they are more alike than they are different," she said as her son, Zeke, a special needs student at Chloe Clark Elementary School, prepared to compete. "Today is a wonderful day, and it teaches these Steilacoom High School students the moral of inclusion."

McCarley and her husband, Chaplain (Capt.) Chris McCarley, emphasized that they had both worked toward and emphasized a positive approach to the Day of Champions with the school district. McCarley is assigned to 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"This is about inclusion; it helps both the typically developing and differently developing to be successful," she said.

Meanwhile, Zeke, under the watchful eye of his older brother, Cooper, walked out onto the football field and began throwing a blue swim noodle as a javelin. The young man's left arm proved to be up to the task as he let fly with noodle after noodle.

Other children joined in the fun, and soon the air was full of green, blue and orange noodles as Steilacoom students provided them with a steady supply of more noodles to throw.

"I feel whole when I see this," said Katie Redman, a first year mathematics teacher at the high school.  "It enlightens me to see their smiles; that means the world to me."

Zeke McCarley smiled.

"I came to run fast and to throw the noodle," he said. "This is great."

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