Special Olympics in Hannibal brings joy to all who participate

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Hannibal students show off their metals in the Special Olympics. From left, Landen Lain, Natrell Washington, Elliot Krook, and in the back, Colton Fessenden Photo by Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. – Natrell Washington’s face lights up when he talks about the Special Olympics, which he has now participated in for four years.

Natrell, a Hannibal student, said his favorite part is running.

The Special Olympics took place Wednesday at Hannibal High School’s Porter Stadium where five area schools gathered and nearly 200 students competed in various sports. 

Natrell and his friends proudly displayed the metals they won for competitions in things like racing, throwing, and the long jump. Natrell competed in the running long jump, the basketball throw, and the 100 meter run.

Megan Klingner, a kindergarten and 1st grade SPED teacher at Veterans Elementary, was there waving and giving hugs to former students who and were now in the older competitions such as running, walking, throwing and jumping.

Her class has participated in the Special Olympics for more than five years, and it’s something they wait for all year long.

“The inclusion it brings and that they can participate in things in this and just go out and have fun is so important,” said Klingner. “They look forward to this every single year.”

For the Little Athletes, they have obstacle courses and eight different rotations of tug-of-war, cup-stacking and more. Klingner said that her students do need to prepare in advance for their games, but the older classes spend time practicing for the events throughout the year. 

One of her favorite parts of the Special Olympics is the support her students receive from other students and staff at Veterans Elementary.

“They make signs and line the hallways as we all walk to the bus to head over to the stadium. The halls are filled with cheers and high fives all to support our athletes,” Klingner said. “The joy on my students’ faces, mixed with all the love and support is truly beautiful and brings a tear to my eyes each year.” 

Another group impacted by the day are the volunteers at the Special Olympics. 

Students from Hannibal Middle School and Hannibal High School, along with parents and others, spend the day helping at Porter Stadium.  

Gracelyn Nielson, 9th grader at Hannibal High School, was volunteering for her second year. Last year, she volunteered as part of the HMS cheerleaders and this year she was there with the HHS Key Club.

Nielson said she enjoys watching the kids at the Special Olympics and she plans to continue volunteering each year.

“It makes them feel really good. I was over with some of the kids and they were just having a lot of fun,” she said. “It really made my day special.” 

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