by Morgan Smith
It’s not uncommon to see thousands of people gathered at the fields beside Charlotte Country Day School every spring, with t
he school’s upper students walking hand-in-hand with developmentally disabled students and adults from across Charlotte.
With girls in the grass playing patty-cake, or boys tossing footballs as they wait for the 100-meter run, the students at Country Day know what it means to step out of their comfort zones and serve others in a big way. They’ve been doing it for 29 years as hosts for the Mecklenburg County Spring Special Olympics, a tradition students look forward to, and one that David Ball, the school’s dean of students, cherishes.
Ball was part of a team of volunteers from Country Day that volunteered for the spring games at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1983.
“Special Olympics was really impressed with the way our students volunteered and asked us to host in 1984,” Ball said. “And one year lead to another year and another year and now it’s been 29 years.”
This year’s event, which kicked off Monday, April 23, with opening ceremonies at Bojangles’ Coliseum, brought nearly 1,000 special-needs children, teens and adults to the school for track and field events, softball, other motor activities and more. Around 640 middle and high school students and adults competed Tuesday, April 24, and around 320 elementary students the following day.
“In Mecklenburg County, we have a very large program so we operate year around. Spring games is probably our largest event of the year,” Greg Morrill, local coordinator of Special Olympics, said.
“We have a wonderful partnership with Country Day. We see it out here in the athletes and also in the students – their interaction – they form friendships that we see even in later years when alumni come back” to help, Morrill added.
Morrill said the partnership is a great event for both the athletes and the Country Day students, allowing each group to take steps outside of their comfort zones.
For Jack Little, Charlotte Country Day senior class president, it’s his fourth year participating in the event, and although it’s great to have two days off from classes, Jack said the best feeling is making the athletes happy.
“It’s really about being there for the buddies and just making sure everyone is having a great time,” he said. This year, Little worked crowd control, making sure everyone was safe during the games, but said he still remembers his “buddy” from freshman year and was sure to say hello every time he saw her.
“Everyone I know really looks forward to this,” Little added. “We’re always really excited to get out and help.”
Mark Reed, principal at Country Day, has been at the school for almost three years now and said the upper school’s involvement with Special Olympics is one of the greatest aspects of Country Day.
“How often do we get a time in life to step out of our own world and have an impact on another person?” Reed said about the tradition. “You can’t help but step outside of yourself and see our world in a whole new way. It’s awe inspiring; to see our students learn so much left me speechless.”
And the partnership continues to grow. Ball said the event continues to take on different activities organized by Country Day. The students hosted numerous clinics and activities for the athletes in between races and events, like tissue flower making, macaroni jewelry, corn hole and putting greens.
“We’ve kind of gradually added those over the years just to give them more activities to do,” Ball said. But no matter how the event changes or grows, Ball added he is just thankful to be part of it.
“I’m really proud to be associated with a school that sends a message to its student body that there is education outside the classroom,” Ball said, “and that service is important enough that you eventually can close the books and reach out to the community.”