HENDERSON -- Lion Stadium is usually home to the star athletes of Henderson ISD, but on Friday, it was a place where special-needs students felt like champions.
The students came from 10 East Texas school districts to participate in Sarah Murphy Field Day, a track-and-field event designed specifically for them. With smiles on their faces, they ran track races such as a 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash and 100-meter adapted hurdles. They also participated in events such as wheelchair races, walker races, standing long jump and javelin throw. All participants, who had buddies to run with them and encourage them, received medals for track races and ribbons for field events.
The field day also offered face painting, and the Kilgore Fire Department was on-hand to pass out information on fire safety.
"Today has been amazing. We have had so many smiles and so many tears of people celebrating and being happy for these kids, and the kids are given the opportunity to be a champion for a day," event organizer Cinny Pike said.
For Heather Hamlett, a paraprofessional in Jacksonville ISD, the field day allowed her to work with students and be with her 5-year-old son Braylon as he participated.
"It's my first time being involved in any special-needs field day, and it's wonderful. I'm glad to be with them and see all the smiling faces," she said.
"I just hope they continue doing it every year. I think all the kids are enjoying it."
Bonnie Riggs, a life-skills aide in Carlisle ISD, described it as "a day that they can shine" and "a day that they are acknowledged."
She said the races make students feel good about themselves, which they might not feel all the time.
"For me to be part of it is a major blessing," Ms. Riggs said.
Troup High School senior M.J. Ghene said he enjoyed helping students, and it's fun to watch them win.
The children also seemed happy to participate.
Nathan Ogeda, a 13-year-old in Carlisle ISD, said the races made him feel "ecstatic," and he was excited Thursday night as he anticipated the field day.
Troup ISD student Robert Vaughn said he had fun, and his favorite part was winning medals.
Sarah Murphy Field Day, a community-sponsored event in its fourth year, started after Ms. Pike, who's been teaching special education for 16 years, watched her students struggle during campus field days. The Special Olympics is great but expensive, she said, and organizers wanted something for local special-needs students.
So the field day was launched. Last year's event drew eight area school districts, including Whitehouse, Troup, Henderson, Arp and Tatum ISDs, and this year, two more were added -- Jacksonville and West Rusk County Consolidated ISDs.
"At the end of the day, the athletes are awarded because they're the champs of the day ... but it's just as rewarding for the adults as it is for the kids," Ms. Pike said.
Xerxes Sanders, 12, of Jacksonville, leads his heat in the 100 meter dash Friday at the Sarah Murphy Field Day at Lion Stadium in Henderson. The event allowed special education students from eight area districts to compete for medals in various races and events. (Staff Photo By Sarah A. Miller)