‘Everybody’s not the same’
Nineteen-year-old Khori Bledsoe has been participating in Special Olympics Durham County since he was in elementary school. He’s also been playing piano from a young age, having learned to play by ear.
And Friday, he combined the two. He played and sang the national anthem on-stage for the Special Olympics competition here, which was expected to draw more than 400 athletes with disabilities to the Durham Academy Upper School athletic fields.
Bledsoe, who has autism and is legally blind, also participated in the competition. He was expected to compete in several events.
“We look forward to it every year,” said Bledsoe’s mother, Shaunesi Reed-Bledsoe, who was also at the event as an instructional assistant working with children from Morehead Montessori School.
Reed-Bledsoe said her 12-year-old son Jourdan Bledsoe, a student at Lakewood Montessori Middle School, was a volunteer at the event. She spoke of the importance of learning to understand other’s differences.
“Everybody’s not the same, and even though we’re not the same, we have to treat them with the same dignity,” she said. “That’s the kind of world I want him to see.”
The Durham County Special Olympics, was coordinated locally by the City of Durham Parks and Recreation Department, kicked off with a parade of athletes. It also included opening ceremonies and the lighting of the Special Olympics torch.
This was the 28th year Durham Academy Upper School has hosted the Special Olympics. Durham Academy Upper School cancels classes for the day so that each student and teacher can be involved.
Durham Academy junior Spencer Hallyburton helped to organize some races and helped run a softball event. He said he really likes volunteering, explaining that working with the athletes helps to put the world in perspective.
He said that win or lose, participants had smiles on their faces.
“They look forward to it all year,” he said. “I think it’s really special that as a school, we can put this on.”
On the school track on Friday, Chris Dapprich, a 17-year-old student from Durham School of the Arts, won his heat in the 50-meter dash. He said after the race he likes to win.
“I think it’s fantastic; it’s great for him to get out and compete,” said Brian Dapprich, Chris’ father. He said his son likes competition in many different things -- from running to eating to drawing. “And it’s fun.”
Along the sidelines of the track, Jose Flores and Angie Espada were cheering for their son, Jonathan Pagan, who was running on Jordan High School’s 440-yard relay team. The school won their heat, and after the race, the four students grouped together to congratulate each other.
“The part I like about it (is), even if you lose, you go to your teammate, and shake his hand,” said 16-year-old Roy Parker, who participated in Jordan High School’s relay. He said he felt he ran a good speed, but the best part was cheering for his teammates.
Joseph Ferrucci, a Durham Public Schools adaptive physical education teacher, said he travels among eight different schools to practice the relay with the students.
Each student on the four-person teams runs 110 yards. Ferrucci said the four fastest students from each school are asked to compete.
Jonathan asked his parents after the race if they could have a pizza party. His father, Flores, said they typically have a little celebration for their children following the competition. Their son, Daniel Pagan, also participated. They settled on Chinese food as their celebratory meal.
“We’re very proud of him,” Espada said of Jonathan.