When a Special Olympics volunteer placed a gold medal around 15-year-old Joseph Maddalone’s neck, his father, Peter, was close by snapping photos of the moment with his iPhone.Joseph radiated pride as he stepped off the winner’s platform to show everyone the medal he had won running the 50-meter dash. It had been a close race, but the Bellport High School student came out on top to take home the gold.
“I knew I was going to win,” Joseph said enthusiastically.
But for Mr. Maddalone, his son was a winner before the race was even run. “I’m so proud of him,” he said, choking back tears.
Joseph was one of more than 300 athletes who competed in the Special Olympics New York Long Island Spring Games at Southampton High School under a perfect spring sky on Sunday. Athletes of all ages spent the morning and afternoon participating in various track and field events, some earning spots in the state summer games next month in Buffalo.
Special Olympics New York provides training and competitions in Olympic-style sports for people with disabilities. It serves more than 3,000 athletes on Long Island and more than 64,000 throughout the state, according to its website.
“It’s an opportunity for them to showcase their abilities, not their disabilities,” Diane Colonna, Long Island regional director for the organization, said of the athletes who take part. “It’s their arena to shine.”
The day proved to be one of many firsts. Not only was it the inaugural Special Olympics competition for lots of athletes, but it was the first time Southampton High School hosted an event for the organization. Denise Merchant, the school district’s director of pupil personnel services, said it took months of planning with various committees to get where they were that day. But she was thrilled with how smoothly it all went.
Mike Darcy, a teacher at Southampton Intermediate School, who had students participating in the games, agreed that the event went well, and he attributed much of its success to the involvement from the community, which included scores of volunteers, both children and adults.
“The community really helped us,” Mr. Darcy said. “It’s wonderful. Everyone is enjoying themselves. The kids are very proud of themselves.”
That was certainly the case for one of Mr. Darcy’s students, 13-year-old Jake Taboada of Westhampton Beach. Although he was wary of competing initially, Jake ended up placing first in the 50-meter dash and looked forward to testing his arm in the softball throw.
“He says it’s the best day of his life, because he won,” said his mother, Christine.
And many competitors were veteran Special Olympics athletes. Peter Perillo, 31, of Miller Place has been involved with the organization since he was in elementary school. A sports fanatic, he has participated in Special Olympics games in North Carolina and Indiana in addition to New York. He now competes with his friends from the Independent Group Home Living Program in Manorville, where he resides.
Mr. Perillo’s mother, Cathy, said he has “boxloads of medals” and was excited to see him receive more that day.
“It means the world to us,” Ms. Perillo said of the opportunities Special Olympics gives her son.
Athletes were also thankful for what they were able to do that day. Erin Lewendoski, 11, of Southampton said she loves running and will take up any chance she gets to do it. “When I found out I could do that, I said, ‘I really want to go,’” she said of the games held at the local high school on Sunday. Erin earned a gold medal in the 50-meter dash and another in the softball throw. “I think it’s really fun,” she said.
Throughout the day, spectators watched, cheered and applauded the competitors, all of whom took home a medal.
But despite all of the great things about the event, 19-year-old Victoria Hammond from Longwood High School could not pinpoint exactly what she loved about it most. Instead, she settled on one word that encompassed it all: “Everything.”