PORT ARTHUR —
Sharon Boutte laughs as she pushes a student in a wheelchair at full speed down the sidelines of the Memorial High School gym. After crossing the finish line, she stands on the court, intermittently erupting with cheers as she watches her students flaunt their athletic prowess.
“I’m having too much fun,” Boutte, director of special education at the Port Arthur Independent School District, said with a laugh. “They’re supposed to be having fun, not me.”
Students and teachers alike were all smiles Wednesday, when PAISD held its annual Special Olympics event. Inclement weather changed the competition from a track meet to a basketball tournament, but that didn’t dampen the fun as PAISD’s special education students honed their skills in dribbling, spot shooting and the target pass.
“Most of these students don’t have a chance to compete, and this gives them the chance to participate in athletic events and get recognition,” Boutte said. “It also gives them the opportunity to socialize with other kids.”
Outside the gym, a table brimming with plastic medals and ribbons awaited students who shone in particular events. Everyone would receive one by day’s end, Boutte said.
“They’re eager to race and win,” she said. “It does a whole lot for their self esteem. They feel like they can do what other non-handicapped kids can do.”
Kevin Henry, head coach of Memorial’s varsity girls’ basketball team, sprinted back and forth on the court, helping to officiate each event. It was a welcome return for Henry, whose teaching career at PAISD began with special education.
“It’s nice to see my babies grow,” Henry said. “It’s a joy to come back and see the smiles on their faces.”
Parent Shelandra Roberts was perhaps the event’s biggest cheerleader, periodically leaping to her feet and applauding as she watched daughter Carmen, 11, practice her shooting.
“I like that they bring all different children here and help them to interact with one another,” Roberts said.
The socialization was especially touching for Roberts, as she said her daughter, a fifth grader at Travis Elementary born with Down syndrome, is often left out when other children her age gather together.
“You don’t know how heartbreaking it is when you bring them around other kids and they don’t want to play with them because they look different, or don’t speak clearly,” Roberts said. “Here, everything they do is cheered. It does my heart good.”