“TOOOOO THE LIIIIINE!!!”
One after the other, they found their way to the finish line, where high-fives and hugs awaited them. They came from Wayne, Norfolk, Bloomfield, South Sioux City, Crofton and other many other Northeast Nebraska communities to run their race and be encouraged every step of the way by family, classmates, friends and the scratchy, energized voice of the public address announcer.
Whether it was a 50-meter motorized wheelchair slalom or a 100-meter run, more than 170 kids of all ages and abilities were cheered on by hundreds of fans, including a good chunk of the Wayne High School student body, during the fifth-annual Spring Sprints that were held on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon at Kern Stadium.
Students from Wayne Community Schools were joined by more than a dozen other school districts’ kids, coming from as far as Homer and Bloomfield, to compete in field events like the long jump and softball throw, to track events like the 25-meter wheelchair race, the 800-meter run and a 400-meter relay.
The idea for the Spring Sprints was hatched five years ago from a regional meeting of special education teachers who were trying to brainstorm ideas for doing something special for special education students.
“Being in Northeast Nebraska, there is not a lot of options for Special Olympics-type of things,” said Jayne Arens, a special education teacher in Crofton who came up with the idea and runs the meet on the track. “I’d asked if there was any interest in doing a track and field day, and there seemed to be quite a few schools who were interested. I sent out an e-mail to see if anybody had an all-weather track that could host it, and Wayne was kind enough and gracious enough to say they’d love to host it.”
The Kern Stadium track has been the home of the Spring Sprints since its first race in 2013, and Wayne High School special education teacher Kayla Varley said the local kids look forward to it.
“The kids love the running, but the part that’s really cool is that so many students offer to come and help out and it’s really cool to see all that support,” she said.
It was hard to tell who was having more fun – the kids, or the ones encouraging them and supporting them and giving them high fives when they finished their races. There were high fives aplenty as kids made their best pitches in the softball throw, and it didn’t seem like any kid competing in the long jump went away without a hug or a word of encouragement.
Members of the Wayne High School National Honor Society, decked out in purple T-shirts, manned the stopwatches and ran alongside students while local members of the Nebraska National Guard helped rake sand at the long jump pits and helped encourage kids at the finish line.
“They’ll cheer for the Wayne kids, but they’ll also cheer for the kids regardless of what town they’re from and really encourage them,” Varley said. “It’s really cool to see all of the support and all the yelling and cheering.”
Arens said she loves the enthusiasm the Wayne kids bring to the meet.
“I’ve brought some of my kids down from Crofton to help, and the Wayne kids are just amazing,” she said. “The excitement and the enthusiasm are just really nice to see. The kids ran a lot of the events on their own and it was neat to see the high school kids interact with the kids and tell them they did a good job.”
About half of the 35 schools served by Educational Service Unit No. 1 participated, along with kids from Norfolk and Pierce. Arens said the number of kids taking part has grown considerably in the event’s short five-year history.
“Some schools have a higher population of kids, but it’s really neat for all the kids in the area to have this opportunity to compete,” she said. “It’s a fun and exciting day for everybody.”
Varley said she enjoys the annual event, and especially enjoys receiving thank-you letters and e-mails from parents whose kids took part.
“It’s all-inclusive and everyone can try an event and people will cheer them on,” she said. “Parents will send us notes saying they loved to see the support of the other students and how much it encouraged their kids to participate. It’s the best day of the year, and I really love to see everyone being a part of it.”