The Special Olympics Illinois State Bowling Tournament was still a day away but Special Olympics bowlers Maegan Walton and Vince Mertes were already being treated as champions as they marched through the halls of LaSalle-Peru Township High School.
As part of the LP State Send-Off, Walton and Mertes, like all LP students who make it to a state-level competition, were paraded through the school with the drum line trailing behind them and the rest of the high school’s students, faculty and staff cheering as they marched through the building. View video of the Send-Off.
“It’s so wonderful for Vinnie, Maegan and all of our Special Olympics athletes to be a part of such an overtly supportive, inclusive student body,” said Amy Goodman, LP Special Olympics bowling coach. “It warms my heart to see our regular-education students interacting with the athletes in such a positive way, not only during big events like the State Send-Off, but also on a daily basis in the classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, and after-school activities. LP has much to be proud of, and our students’ open attitudes are first on the list.”
Walton of Granville went on to win a gold medal in the competition. Mertes of Peru earned a fourth-place ribbon.
The LP State Send-Off is a new tradition at LP High School. So far this year the school has seen members of its girls tennis, girls cross country and volleyball teams, along with the Special Olympics bowlers, honored in this fashion.
D’Wayne Bates, LP’s Director of Athletics and Activities, said, “Our philosophy of ‘Students First; Winning Will Happen’ entails affording all students the opportunity to compete and reach their full potential in athletics. Foremost, we are grateful for Special Olympics, as it allows for student-athletes who need accommodations to still participate and strive in athletics. We value any of our student-athletes who earn the privilege to compete at a state championship level, and Maegan and Vinnie truly represent what it means to be a Cavalier student-athlete. Of the four State Send-Off parades this school year thus far, Maegan and Vinnie’s arguably was the most passionate.”
LP High School currently participates in Special Olympics Project UNIFY. Activities, such as this State Send-Off, only highlight the many great things being done to ensure that all LP students, regardless of ability, are treated with dignity and respect.
“We believe very strongly that our vision statement, ‘Learn…Grow…Lead…Excellence is our Standard!,’ applies to every student in our district,” Superintendent Steve Wrobleski said.
“A part of that is celebrating all the accomplishments of our students as they display excellence in learning, growing and learning. Both Vinnie and Maegan are wonderful representatives and role models for our entire student body on what hard work and dedication can result in.”
Jayme Salazar, an LP special education teacher, echoed Wrobleski’s sentiments. “LPHS has always done a good job of including students with disabilities in the school, however this is our first year participating in Project UNIFY and our objective is to improve the school climate to foster respect and acceptance. The encouragement the students received through the State Send-off was a true symbol of respect for all people at LPHS. Maegan and Vince will remember this moment for a lifetime but it was just as significant moment for all LPHS stakeholders, as it set the standard for our school climate,” she said.