• The Burleson Blaze Special Olympics team attended state games for basketball, shot put and track. BISD/Katelyn Tyler

Going for gold

Burleson Blaze Special Olympics team has success at state games

Burleson ISD is known for their great athletics department, but did you know BISD is also home to Special Olympics state champs? What started out as a small program in 2014 to serve three and four-year-olds has grown to 30 student-athletes - with more expected to join.

“We treat them like regular athletes,” said Monette Smith, Burleson Blaze head of delegation for Special Olympics. “We don’t do anything differently, but they eat it up.”

The team attended state games, held at the University of Texas at Arlington, this May. Nine students earned gold medals for the basketball team, three students placed or won medals for individual basketball skills, one student earned a medal for shot put and five students placed or won medals for track. 15 students earned their letterman jackets.

“It’s a great self-esteem builder,” Smith said. “It also aids in self-determination, because they are deciding who they are and it benefits the community as well because they get to see and work with our student son a different playing field.”

Lucretia Gartrell, Executive director of special services, said Special Olympics allows the students to show off their unique skills.

“Where they may not excel in academic events, they are showing that they have the ability to excel in athletic endeavors,” she said. “It also increases their access to extracurricular activities.”

Gartell further said that BISD harbors an extremely accepting environment for the inclusion of people with disabilities.

“It’s one of the outstanding traits about this school district,” she said. “In 2016-2017 all of our homecoming courts were people with disabilities.”

The district offers unified physical education classes, that partners disabled students with non-disabled students. The department will start a new program at Hughes Middle School this year that will partner students with disabilities with non-disabled students for Special Olympics sports.

The inclusion of disabled students has caught the eye of Special Olympics, who reached out to Smith recently with some exciting news.

“They would like BISD to become an official unified champion school district,” she said. “They were really impressed with what we are doing in Burleson.”

Gartrell added that they would like to grow the unified events because disabled students will have opportunities to play other sports, such as flag football.

“The students get really into it,” Smith said. “We have a young lady who participates in individual skills in basketball, she also participated in the sparkle squad at Centennial High School. This year the cheer banquet and basketball practice came up on the same night, so she had to make a choice. She chose the banquet but the mother sent me a message that said, ‘I never thought that I would be having to make a choice between two extra-curricular activities for my disabled child.’ That’s the kind of thing that recharges you and know this is why we do what we do.”

One aspect that has continued to challenge the group is finances. Because Burleson Blaze is not attached to a single campus, there is not a booster club to help support the group. With the support of the parents, the special services department raises all of its own funds.

“The letterman jackets, for example, that is a $900 dollar expense that we will incur,” Gartrell said. “The banquet we do every year we pay for ourselves. All of that comes out of fundraising The more we grow the more we have to commit to the fundraising aspect.”

However, both Smith and Gartrell agreed that all of the time and money is well spent.

“It’s a great investment,” Smith said.

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Burleson Star

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