By Kim Walter
STEPHENS CITY -- Special needs students at Sherando High School had been looking forward to Friday all week for the first ever Warriors Together. Despite the brisk weather, the students and their peers enjoyed every minute of it.
Sherando's Gifted Independent Study class is responsible for some kind of community outreach project each year that touches on national and local needs.
Students of the class decided they wanted some way to bring together the entire student body, something that would be fun for everyone involved.
Rosa Gibson, a 17-year-old senior, said in working with the school's resource class she realized that the special needs students didn't get to interact much with others.
"You know, you might see them during lunch or gym, but there's never a chance to actually get to know them," she said. "They're our peers, and they amaze me more with every day I get to spend with them."
Mariah Krossman, a 17-year-old senior at James Wood High School who is part of the GIS class at Sherando, said the group wanted to find a way to bring varsity athletes together with "special" athletes from the school and NW Works in Winchester.
So, Warriors Together was created as a day of friendly competition and activities amongst varsity football players, cross country runners and the "special" athletes.
The class was able to collect more than $1,000 from community sponsors, and created T-shirts for all participants. Those not directly involved were charged admission, but all proceeds went to Area 13 Special Olympics.
"I think we'd be happy with any amount to donate," Mariah said. "This was more about being active in our local special needs community, and just doing something fun while building relationships."
A special cross country course was designed, and each "special" athlete was paired with a runner from the cross-country team.
Lindsey Stiefvater, a 16-year-old member of the team, was paired with Brendan Nutry, also 16. Lindsey said she was surprised when Brendan took off from the starting line and finished before her.
"I couldn't keep up!" she said after the race. "But it was awesome. I'm so proud to be a part of this."
Brendan, through deep breaths, said he was having a good time and couldn't help but run fast during the race. He added that he was looking forward to the flag football game, in which he would play quarterback.
"I'm the manager of the football team, so I can't wait to play against those guys," he said with a smile. "I'm having fun either way."
Face painting, corn hole and a concession stand were also available during the after-school event.
Robin Owens, GIS teacher at Sherando, said she was amazed by her students and their focus on putting on the event.
"They've done everything, they are responsible for all of this," she said. "They advertised and really encouraged their peers to come out and maybe talk to some kids that they never have before."
Emily Thomas, 35, graduated from Sherando in 1999 and is now involved with NW Works, a Winchester organization helping citizens with disabilities find work.
Thomas said she was thrilled to be back at her alma mater, and enjoyed getting her face painted by a current Sherando student.
"I love meeting new people," she said. "I just feel so good right now ... so happy!"
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org