The bleachers are full of cheering teenagers. Cheerleaders line the floor hockey arena on the basketball court as the noise level climbs.
On the court, a handful of special needs high school students are chasing a disk and trying to slide it into the opposing team’s net. Beneath the players’ helmets and facemasks, onlookers can see smiling faces.
Charlene Turner lives for moments like these. Turner, a special needs teacher at Redan High School, was one of several teachers who helped Redan host the DeKalb County Floor Hockey Special Olympics event on Friday, Dec. 12.
Three schools – Redan and Columbia high schools, and Dacula Middle School – participated in the daylong event.
“It puts a smile of their face and pride in their heart,” said Turner, who has been a special needs teacher in DeKalb County for 15 years. “This kind of event helps the kids build self-esteem and helps them feel like part of the school.”
Redan won the high school division, beating Columbia 5-0 and Dacula Middle 6-5. Redan earned the right to advance to the state competition.
Redan floor hockey participants like senior Willie Cooper look forward to the annual event and the other Special Olympics competitions. Cooper, a goalie, was part of Redan’s middle school team that recently finished second in the state.
“I like it because there’s lots of action,” Cooper said before Redan’s first game in the tournament. “I get to meet new friends and see some old ones, too.”
The floor hockey event is one of several hosted each year in DeKalb County. Other events include volleyball, basketball and soccer. The main Special Olympics event is track and field, which takes place each spring. The events are rotated to different schools throughout the county each year, Turner said.
Carlton Saunders, a special education teacher for eight years at Redan, also enjoyed watching the students get cheered on by their peers.
“I love to see the kids having lots of fun,” Saunders said. “They’re really dedicated and really put their hearts into it. You can see the happiness on their faces.”