More than 30 student athletes from across the Algoma District are bound for Toronto, where they will compete in the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games May 14-17.
This year's youth games will feature about 2,000 competitors from around the world taking part in the four-day event.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement, this year’s event will mark the first time that students 13 to 21 years of age with an intellectual disability will have the chance to compete in an international sports competition.
“For some of my students, it’s an opportunity to get out of Sault Ste. Marie,” said Marnee Giuliani, who has been a teacher in the practical learning program at Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School for the past nine years. “Most of them are independent - they’re coming independently with us.”
“There’s that sense of being part of a team, there’s a sense of being independent going on a trip to Toronto that they may never get.”
The Algoma District School Board is sending teams from White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School, Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School and Rockhaven School for Exceptional Children in Serpent River.
Athletes will take part in athletics, basketball, bocce, floor hockey and soccer.
Participants will either be placed traditional division, where all athletes of the team have an intellectual disability, or a unified division, where athletes with and without an intellectual disability will have the opportunity to compete on the same team.
“They’re high school students, but they get a chance to see what our students are capable of,” Giuliani said. “They end up being such a support system and role models.”
“We took a unified team to provincials last year in Peterborough, and the high school kids were phenomenal with the students, so they bond and they come back friends, which is a great thing for our special-ed kids, so it’s a neat experience.”
Giuliani says that the Special Olympics has been instrumental in supporting the student athletes through money raised from its annual torch run.
“Really, they don’t need a cent to go, that organization is the most phenomenal organization I’ve ever been part of,” she told SooToday. “Our meals, our accommodations – everything is paid for.”
The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service was at Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School Monday morning to present those departing for Toronto with a total of $50,000 worth of donations.
Giuliani tells SooToday that the Special Olympics is always something that she looks forward to each year.
“It’s probably one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever done as an educator, and it really is the highlight of the year for me to watch them experience that,” she said.
Opening ceremonies for the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games will take place at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre Tuesday, May 14 beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The event will be aired live on TSN and TSN2.
More information on the youth games can be found here.