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South Jordan Journal

Sports Day gives students of all abilities the opportunity to be champions

Jul 07, 2023 09:42AM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Elementary fifth-grader Conner Rosenthal was excited that he’d have the chance to jump “twice my height.”

“I’ve been practicing a lot on my jumping and for all the events,” he said, adding that he wants to participate in track and field when he’s in high school.  “I like getting the ribbons and medals.”

Conner was gearing up for Jordan School District’s Sports Day.

The day is an opportunity for students of all abilities — those who have Autism, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, language disabilities, intellectual disabilities, those physically challenged with walkers and wheelchairs and other multiple disabilities — to come together to compete in a 50-meter dash, long jump, softball throw and “cross country,” or the 400-meter run. 

Matched with other students of similar abilities in small groups, students are challenged within their own level during Sports Day. Some schools sent peer student-athletes to help, encourage and participate alongside those competing.

“I like how kids are competing against themselves and others, but more so, how they’re given a chance to show what they can do and have fun,” River’s Edge teacher Carnell Cummings said, who brought eight students to participate. “Today, it’s all about them. Sports Day makes them be Olympians for a day.”

Daybreak Elementary second-grader Oliver Casserilla was getting ready to compete.

“Oliver is nonverbal, but he loves to run,” his dad, Mark Casserilla, said. “Sometimes he just runs and runs; the teachers have to chase him because he loves to run so much. Sports Day gives him more opportunity to play sports.”

Oliver and some of his classmates already play baseball for the South Jordan Miracle.

“It’s great having all these opportunities for these kids, because a lot of times, they don’t have them. Just having this love and support and good energy is so helpful to them,” Casserilla said, who added that his son plans to compete in unified sports in middle and high school.

Daybreak parent Morgan Meyers also appreciates Sports Day.

“There are so many places, maybe 80 percent of the environments, where he doesn’t fit in,” she said about her second-grade son, Landon. “So having a place where he does fit in and is included and is supportive, just the way he is, is special. It’s also nice for these kids who are a little different to be surrounded with other kids who are different, so they can say, ‘I’m not the only one who doesn’t necessarily always fit the mold.’ Often, they go to their siblings’ events and they’ll say ‘that’s great, but where do I fit?’ So this is nice for them to see a lot of kids who don’t necessarily fit the mold.”

Landon was looking forward to the softball throw, participating with his friends and “doing this together.”

Meyers said she appreciates her son’s school as well as Sports Day.

“I love that he’s in an environment where he’s really supported. He’s with like peers and they have resources to provide for him what he needs as an individual and that he has opportunities like Sports Day to really shine,” she said.

Fifth-grader Malakai McIntyre and his twin brother, Elijah, were competing with their South Jordan Elementary classmates.

“My brother and I both got first place running last year,” Malakai said, adding that their ribbons are displayed at home.  “Cross country is my favorite. I can run for miles and miles.”

He was looking forward to meeting up with his friends from a previous school he attended.

“I get to see them and race them,” Malakai said.

Elijah, who also was looking forward to seeing his old friends, was concentrating on the 50-yard dash. 

“It’s my favorite because I can focus on one thing — just aim straight and run fast,” he said. “At school, we practice them all, throwing, jumping and running far.”

Their mother, Melanie Candelaria, was cheering on her sons at Sports Day.

“I think they’re competing against each other more than anybody else, but I’ve raised them to know they’re only competing against themselves, and they’re there to support each other,” she said. “Malakai has come a long way. He has hydrocephalus and a brain tumor. He wasn’t even supposed to walk, let alone run. Elijah was born clinically dead and spent five weeks in the NICU. He didn’t talk until he was 8. He used to walk on his tippy toes, but he had surgery last year on both of his legs and was in a cast for six weeks. The fact that they’re here and competing and just having fun is an absolute win for me.”

Still, Candelaria said the boys are “very competitive.”

“It’s great they have this opportunity,” she said. “Sports Day has provided much excitement for these kids; there’s a lot of joy and smiles.”  λ