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Special Olympians Bring Home Hardware

The Special Olympics program for Smithville high and junior high school students isn’t about winning over others, it’s about winning over self, according to Jason Peterson, Special Education teacher at the high school, in line with the Special Olympics motto “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The program encourages individuals with intellectual disabilities to train and compete in sports for a higher level of health and inclusion.

“It’s fundamental that all kids give us their best at practice so they can give their best at competition,” said Coach Peterson. “It’s all about ‘honest effort.’”

Students in Smithville train twice a week in individual basketball skills over the winter. The Smithville Recreation Center opens up the courts without charge so that Special Olympic students can practice their skills. The students then compete in February in San Marcos.

After that comes track and field. All Smithville students compete in the 100-meter dash, and then can compete in one field event: running long jump, softball throw, mini-javelin, shot put or standing long jump.

Each competitor is weighed on their skill level, with gold, silver and bronze medals awarded, and participation ribbons given to those who don’t place in the top three. 

They hold scrimmages at Barry Field and go to competition with other athletes.

Against 600 other athletes, they recently returned home from the Leander track meet with five gold medals, two silver and two bronze medals (see results below). Matthew Gorman and Jack Harris also earned personal best times in the running long jump.

However, the learning and fun does not end with competition. Sara Peterson, wife of Jason and a coach, said that the students look forward to the socializing aspects of the events also.

“It allows us to take them out and into the community,” she said. “It teaches them quite a bit.”

Students have a chance to practice skills such as ordering at a restaurant, counting money at the concession stand, and socializing with others.

“Sometimes, the furthest these kids have ever gone is Bastrop, so getting out is a big deal for them,” Mrs. Peterson said.

Last year the students were taken to the theater, but that didn’t work out well, according to Coach Peterson, and activities such as bowling have replaced the sit-down movie.

“Our students like to talk and interact,” said Coach Peterson. “Bowling, eating out – things like that are a better fit.”

“Some of them have mad arcade skills,” added Mrs. Peterson.

Donations have also helped the students with extras since the school allots $7 per meal, per state regulations.

“Not many places we can go,” said Coach Peterson, “but that donation from people like Mrs. Gilstrap allows us more freedom. A lot of generosity in our area allows us to do more for the kids.”

Smithville is in Area 13 in Central Texas, which includes 18 counties, 364 coaches and 3,504 athletes, according to the Special Olympics website.



Smithville Junior High:

  • Tanner Braneff - Gold medal 100-Meter Dash, Silver medal Softball Throw
  • Rigoberto Carrizales - 5th place 100-Meter Dash, Gold medal Softball Throw


Smithville High School:

  • Tristan Espinoza - Gold medal 100-Meter Dash, Silver medal Softball throw
  • Emma Gilstrap - 4th place Softball Throw
  • Zack Dershem - 6th place 100-Meter Dash, Bronze medal Running Long Jump
  • Matthew Gorman - Bronze medal 100-Meter Dash, Gold medal Running Long Jump (Personal Best) 3.71 Meters
  • Jack Harris - 5th place 100-Meter Dash, Gold medal Running Long Jump (Personal Best) 2.1 Meters
Photos courtesy of Jason Peterson
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