El Campo ISD student Frankie Longoria jumps to catch a softball at the 2021 Ricebird Mini Olympics Wednesday. ECISD has participated in the mini Olympics event, which offers special education students the chance to participate in a variety of athletic games, for more than two decades. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 games, but this year students were able to compete at Ricebird Stadium.

El Campo ISD’s Life Skills students jumped, sprinted and hula hooped in the name of fun Wednesday, competing in the Ricebird Mini Olympics for the first time since 2019.

An opening ceremony kicked off the event at 9 a.m. as the athletes – students of all ages in ECISD’s special education programs – entered the stadium. After a performance of the Ricebird fight song from the El Campo High School band, students posed for a commemorative photo and then the games began.

Students tested their athletic prowess through events like the long jump, hula hoop dance, track race and bean bag and softball tosses. In total, 56 students in six classes competed.

“Special education and Life Skills kids haven’t gone anywhere (during the pandemic,)” Adaptive PE Teacher Kristen Seay said. “So, it’s been really good for the kids to get out of the classroom and do something.”

Students ranging from elementary to high school age competed in the events, with every participant receiving a gold medal. The event doesn’t count for a class grade or anything, Seay told the newspaper, it is purely for the students’ enjoyment.

Events were organized to keep students together based on their classroom, due to COVID-19 protocol, to limit student interaction. Masks were also worn when appropriate.

ECISD has participated in the mini Olympics event for more than two decades with students from the El Campo-Louise-Rice Consolidated or the East Wharton County special education cooperative. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students outside of ECISD did not attend.

“This year’s been so different for our kids,” ECHS Life Skills Teacher Angela Wenglar said. “We haven’t gotten to go on any field trips or anything like that.”

The event was traditionally held in Wharton, but stadium renovations in 2019 and the pandemic in 2021 both brought the event to Ricebird stadium. A mini Olympics was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Leftover donations from the 2019 event were used to fund this year’s competition.

“We’re just excited that we were able to do it,” Wenglar said. “We were able to do it because of past community support … The community’s support for our program is always amazing.”

With the pandemic ongoing, program leaders were uncertain what the mini Olympics will look like next year. In the future, they would like to hold a kick ball tournament for students.

Seay, Wenglar and STEP II Teacher Barbara Hlavaty coordinated this year’s mini Olympics. Volunteers for the El Campo High School Anchor Club helped throughout the event, along with ECISD teachers. ECHS’ band played at the opening ceremony pep rally and the Ricebird football team cheered on the athletes as they competed.

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