‘Amazing’ Spirit, Effort

Special Olympics Promotes Inclusion Across Chautauqua County

Several student-athletes from Washington Middle School give the “number one” sign prior to competing at the 2024 Chautauqua County Special Olympics Thursday at Strider Field. P-J Photo by Christopher Blakeslee

Strider Field figuratively transformed from a track and field and football venue to an Olympic coliseum of sorts on Thursday.

Several hundred special needs student athletes, teachers, principals, family members and event supporters packed into Strider Field to compete and watch the 2024 Chautauqua County Special Olympic games. Many events start their individual games off with a law enforcement torch run, the peace officers act as escorts for the “flame” into the perceptive venue where the games are being hosted according to letr.org

However, this year’s law enforcement torch-run also honored a past Olympian.

“We want to take a moment to honor a past Olympian, Anthony Senske who passed away earlier this year,” said the master of ceremonies. A photograph of Senske was carried at the head of the law enforcement formation and paraded around the field in front of the Olympic torch.

Special Olympics New York is a non-for-profit entity which promotes unity, acceptance, empowerment through sporting events for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities by hosting sporting events tailored to them. The student-athletes are given a chance to develop their own character and make friends in the same way any other U.S. citizens might, through camaraderie and competition and organized sporting events.

Special Olympics athlete Olive S. Lienhart receives an award and high-fives from various law enforcement officers prior to the start of the 2024 Special Olympics, held Thursday at Strider Field. Lienhart is one of many athletes who represented Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) during the games. P-J Photo by Christopher Blakeslee

“The kids love this event and get excited to compete year-after-year,” said Pat Langworthy, a principal for BOCES special needs program. “This is an amazing event, and it really allows the kids to showcase skills, teamwork and dedication.”

Furthermore, some four-legged, Special Olympic supporters were also on hand to lend support, comfort and provide more uplifting support for the student athletes if needed.

“This is Mr. Jacob J. Puddles, he’s a certified therapy dog,” said Julie Jaffy, a special education teacher at the Ashville Hewes BOCES location. “He loves the children and is in great demand.” Puddles is a purebred basset hound, and each time an athlete would pass by he would wag his tail in hopes of getting a scratch or head rub.

For a Frewsburg special needs teacher, the Special Olympics are as enjoyable for him to watch as it is for his students to compete.

“This event is simply amazing,” said Nick Babcock. “The kids enjoy everything about this day. From seeing athletes from other schools they know, to the festive nature of the sporting events, this is their day to shine.”

Christopher Marcinkowski (center) is a special olympian who is representing Chautauqua Lake Central School District Thursday, at Strider Field during the 2024 Chautauqua County Special Olympics. P-J Photo by Christopher Blakeslee

Christopher Marcinkowski, a student at Chautauqua Lake, who was all smiles, when asked if he was ready for the games… simply smiled and gave a thumbs-up.

While each event has medal winning awardees, the real winners are the hundreds of athletes who gave it their all on the field of glory and showcased class, respect and good sportsmanship, emulating the true spirit of the Olympic Games of old.

For more information about the New York Special Olympics go to www.specialolympics-ny.org.

The replica flaming torch of the Olympic games is brought to Strider Field signifying the official opening of the 2024 Chautauqua County Special Olympics Thrusday. P-J Photo by Christopher Blakeslee

The colors and standards of the United States of America and the state of New York are marched around Strider field and followed by a parade of color guard members, Jefferson Middle School marching band and the entire body of student athletes Thursday, as part of the opening ceremony for the 2024 Chautauqua County Special Olympics. P-J Photo by Christopher Blakeslee


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