With a mighty heave, Patrick Wills launched his shot put through the air and soaked in the cheers from delighted spectators.
As officials measured the distance of the throw, the 19-year-old special-education student from San Bruno paid close attention and noted his results as one of the best of the afternoon.
"Not that I’m competing," he quickly added with a sly smile.
Wills was one of about 600 local special-needs athletes who showed their skills at the fifth annual Super Sports Day, held at Burlingame High School on Friday. The track-and-field meet was put on by the Special Olympics of Northern California, and involves kindergartners through high school seniors enrolled in county special-education programs.
The innovative partnership between public schools and the Special Olympics was born in 2003 with a handful of Burlingame High School kids, said Foster City resident Bonnie Silverman, whose daughter was one of the original students involved in the program.
Today, Silverman works for the Special Olympics of Northern California managing the school partnership program, which has grown to include 713 students on the Peninsula. It has also expanded to include 425 students in Contra Costa County and 349 in San Francisco, which is hosting its first Super Sports Day on May 23 at Kezar Stadium.
While the school partnership program is the fastest growing part of the Special Olympics program, nowhere is it thriving the way it is in San Mateo County. Peninsula students play soccer in the fall, basketball in the spring and bowl year-round.
The goal of the program, Silverman said, is not only to teach sports, but to instill teamwork and persistence in the athletes. While the kids feel strong and included, the training arms educators with another teaching tool, she said.
For Pauline Picetti, a classroom aide to Wills and other special-needs students at Burlingame High School, Super Sports Day is a time to see a year’s worth of training pay off.
"You see the happy looks on their faces when they get their medals and it just makes you feel great," Picetti said.