‘Benefits and blessings’: Special Prom, Special Olympics go hand in hand

Published 6:53 am Monday, May 6, 2024

Attending prom is like a rite of passage for most high school students. So, when Lucy Young, Kathy Rankin, Janice McKercher and Tilman Whitley were trying to decide on what type of event they could hold that would be meaningful for the special needs students at Warren Central High School, the now-former teachers decided on holding a prom.

And while the first event was in 1992, this year marked the 30th installment of Special Prom – due to the two-year hiatus caused by the COVID 19 pandemic – which was held April 19 at the Junis Ward Johnson Memorial YMCA.

Special Prom started out small, Young said.

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“We had a dance over in Gym B (at WCHS) during the school day and just had our students,” she said.

Parents were also invited to attend, and a few refreshments were served.

“And from there it just grew,” Young said. “I began to draw escorts from their peers — Regular-Ed students — and as it evolved, we started getting prom dresses that people would give, and beauticians would come to the school and do their hair.”

The Special Prom, geared for high school aged students, expanded further to include special needs students from Vicksburg High School. Later Micah’s Mission and Jacob’s Ladder, which Young referred to as hybrid schools, were included.

The theme for this year’s Special Prom was “Dancing with the Stars” and special guests at the event were Miss Mississippi Vivian O’Neal and Miss Vicksburg’s Teen Addie Grace Clay.

Young said Arlene Smith oversaw the food for the event.

“Arlene does all of our food for the prom and has for years,” she said. “And then her Future Teachers of America Club has provided the escorts for these past two years.”

Before COVID, Young said there were upwards of 55 couples who participated in the Special Prom lead out.

But since COVID, the numbers have declined.

The numbers of athletes participating in the local Special Olympics has also dropped.

Young said this is also due in part to COVID. For an athlete to participate in the Special Olympics they must have a physical done by a doctor or a nurse practitioner.

Many of the athletes had fulfilled this requirement. But physicals are only good for three years. By the time the pandemic ended and competitions could begin again, Young said physicals had expired. And getting athletes to get up-to-date physicals — or getting physicals for new students that meets all the Special Olympic requirements — has been a challenge.

Young said some special needs athletes have had their physicals updated, but it required an individual doctor’s appointment, which for some families can be an obstacle.

In years past, mass physicals were offered by a doctor and two nurse practitioners.

“They came to Halls Ferry Park and did the physicals on-site,” Young said. “So, we are going to have to come up with what we did before. We’re going to have to hopefully find some volunteer doctors or nurse practitioners that would be willing to give some time and do those physicals in mass.”

Procuring a physical for an athlete has not been the only challenge, Young said.

The interest in Special Olympics and Special Prom has waned since COVID and Young is hoping interest and support can be reignited by parents, schools and teachers.

Before COVID, Young said, the number of elementary students from Warren County who participated in the Special Olympic was between 250 to 300 athletes.

“And then in the high school and adult events, it would draw anywhere from 100 to 150 (athletes),” she said.

Young has been involved with the Special Olympics for about 35 years and is currently serving as the Area 10 Special Olympics game director. Pauline Vessell serves as the Area 10 director and Sandy Hearn is the assistant director.

As a former P.E. teacher and coach, Young stressed the importance of the Special Olympics.

“Unlike high school sports where you have the rules and everybody has to follow the same rules, with Special Olympics, we can adapt to whatever the child’s need is,” she said. “Such as a wheelchair race in track and field, if they can’t roll their own chair, we can have it where someone rolls that chair and pushes them. So, it’s adaptable and everybody can be a part of it. And it does so much for the self-esteem and being included and the rewards of it are just beyond description.”

Young said volunteers are also fulfilled.

“Anybody that has ever volunteered and helped, they may enter it thinking they are doing something for somebody. But I tell you what: They walk away where they received the benefits and the blessings of it as much as the ones they’ve been helping.”

Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver with the first International Special Olympics Summer Games held at Soldier Field in Chicago.

That same year, Shriver visited Ellisville State School in Jones County. There, 150 athletes competed in the first Special Olympics games in Mississippi. Special Olympics Mississippi now offers a variety of Olympic-style individual and team sports that include athletics; aquatics; basketball; bocce; cheerleading; bowling; tennis; canoeing; croquet; flag football; golf; horseshoes; equestrian; powerlifting; sailing; soccer; volleyball; and softball.

On May 10, 41 Area 10 athletes will be traveling to Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi for the summer games, Hearn said. The athletes will be competing in track and field, bowling, swimming, and bocce.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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