Students Win Gold Medals At New York State Special Olympics
On Saturday, June 5, a total of 17 Chautauqua County athletes from the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES (E2CCB) competed at the New York State Special Olympics Summer Games in Utica, taking home gold medals in volleyball and several track and field events as well as an assortment of silver and bronze medals and fourth- and fifth-place ribbons.
The trip to Utica was the culmination of months of hard work, training and preparation by the athletes, who had to earn the right to compete at the state level. Their coaches say the thrill of winning those medals and ribbons pales in comparison to the joyful experience they all shared in Utica and the excitement of competing, which represents the spirit of the Special Olympics.
The athletes and coaches departed from the E2CCB LoGuidice Educational Center in Fredonia early in the day on June 4 bound for Utica College, which hosted the Summer Games. Several additional competitors from the Jamestown and Frewsburg area joined the 17 E2CCB athletes on the 250-mile bus ride, making it to Utica in time to participate in the opening ceremonies. Many of the athletes’ parents made the trip as well to watch their children compete.
Competitions began early the following morning. Eight E2CCB students participated in the athletics category of the Summer Games, competing in numerous track and field events. The athletics team included Tyler Gernatt, Dylan Murphy and Jacob Steinhoff from the Brocton Central School District; Deanna DeGolier, Tim Stull and Richelle Tyma from the Fredonia Central School District; and Travis Utley from the Pine Valley Central School District alongside Fredonia graduate Amy Ippolito. The team was coached by LoGuidice Center teachers Susan Hertlein and Maureen Bialaszewski and teacher aide Paulette Wright.
Rain delays and the looming threat of thunderstorms forced Special Olympics officials to award medals based on athletes’ performances in the preliminary rounds. The E2CCB team was awarded five gold medals, six silver medals, six bronze medals, four fourth-place ribbons and one fifth-place ribbon in a variety of track and field events and age groups.
“We faced high humidity, 80-degree temperatures and were forced to evacuate the track twice due to thunderstorms. Some of the events were cancelled as the rain delays wreaked havoc on the schedule of events. Our athletes demonstrated a great deal of patience and made the most out of a difficult weather event,” Hertlein said.
Another nine E2CCB students participated in the volleyball tournament as the Chautauqua Lakers, competing against more than a dozen other teams from across New York state. Team members included Leonard Ecker, Tiffany Pierce and Andrew Sissem from the Brocton Central School District; Co-Captain Leonard Parsons and Jason Stevens from the Cassadaga Valley Central School District; Julio Echevarria and Ryan Nordine from the Dunkirk Public School District; and Co-Captain Brennan Maybee and Steveray Stevens from the Gowanda Central School District. The team was coached by LoGuidice Center teachers Mary Carlson and Dan Snyder and school counselor Beverli Horrocks.
The Chautauqua Lakers faced off against three other teams in the preliminary round and secured a strong seed position, going on to win the first two sets against their initial opponent in the tournament’s best-of-three opening match. The Chautauqua Lakers proceeded to the final round, once again sweeping it by winning the first two sets and taking home the gold.
“I have never been so proud of a group of students I have taken to states. Their teamwork, the respect they showed each other and the respect they gave to their coaches, judges and opponents were overwhelming. Even if they had not won the gold, they were first-place winners in my eyes,” Horrocks said.
Later that day, proudly displaying their medals and ribbons, the athletes attended the closing ceremonies, which included a dance and celebration. According to Hertlein, New York state boasts the largest number of Special Olympics competitors and the athletes had the opportunity to meet and interact with other participants from all across the state. The students returned to Western New York the following day.
“We are so grateful to the local merchants and component school districts that have provided support and donations to help us train and prepare our athletes for the competition,” Hertlein said.
The following is a list of medals won by each of the competitors:
Brocton Central School District: Leonard Ecker – volleyball (gold); Tyler Gernatt – softball throw (gold), 100 meters (bronze) and long jump (fourth-place ribbon); Dylan Murphy – 100 meters (gold), softball throw (silver) and long jump (bronze); Tiffany Pierce – volleyball (gold); Andrew Sissem – volleyball (gold); and Jacob Steinhoff – 200 meters (silver), 100 meters (bronze) and long jump (fourth-place ribbon)
Cassadaga Valley Central School District: Leonard Parsons – volleyball (gold); and Jason Stevens – volleyball (gold)
Dunkirk Public School District: Julio Echevarria – volleyball (gold); and Ryan Nordine – volleyball (gold)
Fredonia Central School District: Deanna DeGolier – softball throw (silver) and 50 meters (silver); Amy Ippolito – 400-meter walk (gold), softball throw (bronze) and 100 meters (fourth-place ribbon); Tim Stull – softball throw (bronze) and 100 meters (bronze); and Richelle Tyma –long jump (gold), softball throw (silver) and 100 meters (silver)
Gowanda Central School District: Brennan Maybee – volleyball (gold) and Steveray Stevens – volleyball (gold)
Pine Valley Central School District: Travis Utley – 200 meters (gold), long jump (fourth-place ribbon) and 100 meters (fifth-place ribbon)