Fourth-grader Dasha Willis took her place at the long-jump starting line, sprinted down the runway, then ran straight into the sand.

"Yeah!" Dasha yelled, pumping a fist.

Her classmates from Green Acres Elementary School in Lebanon whooped and clapped. "One more time!" one urged, and Dasha obliged.

At the annual elementary level Special Olympics Track Meet, it doesn't matter how far competitors jump — or even whether they jump at all. What matters is that everyone has a chance to be cheered.

Ninety-five young athletes from nine mid-valley elementary schools came Wednesday to the track at South Albany High School for the annual track meet. 

In addition to the long jump, they competed in the softball throw and various "running" events, with plenty of walking allowed. For the sixth year, students from Albany Options School assisted in organizing each event and in handing out ribbons.

This year's event was the largest organizer Rosie Zupan can remember in at least nine years of holding the meet at South Albany. The meet included participation from three new schools: Clemens Primary School in Philomath, Jefferson Elementary School in Corvallis and Jefferson Elementary School in Jefferson.

Tracy Keuler, student services director for the Jefferson School District, said her school learned of the opportunity from a new Life Skills teacher who had previously been in Albany. The school decided to join, she said, "for the experience for the kids; something positive for them."

The children were excited to be a part of it, she added. "Their faces, getting their first ribbons, are just priceless."

The track meet is meant to give the students a chance to get together, have a team experience and show off their skills, just like their peers, said Julie Bixler, who teaches special education at Timber Ridge School.

Timber Ridge added an adaptive P.E. class this year, giving students with special needs a chance to concentrate on skills such as teamwork and eye contact in a smaller setting, outside their regular, all-class P.E. periods. The track meet, Bixler said, gives them the chance to take those skills to the next level.

Plus, she added, everyone loves a field trip and a picnic on a football field. "Just the bus ride over, they get so thrilled." 

Mary Beth Hill, who teaches special education at Corvallis' Jefferson Elementary, said she thinks her school definitely will be back next year. 

"It's something we can all do, and it's adaptive for all of our kids," she said. "It's the fact that they're participating, that they're having fun doing that, and they're cheering on their teammates."


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