When Minarets seniors Hailey Zieglar and Analiese Bayt were informed of their requirement to complete a senior legacy project for graduation from Minarets High School in O'Neals they had little concept of what they wanted to do. It wasn't until Ziegler's self-appointed adviser Gege Drozen Minarets teacher and resource specialist told Ziegler to do something near and dear to her heart that the two came up with the idea of a Mountain Area Special Needs Olympics.
Ziegler, whose brother Richard Zieglar was born with Down-Syndrome, Fetal-Alcohol Syndrome and Tracheomalacia, used her experiences with Richard as inspiration to create a fun-filled day for students, adults and children of the Mountain Area community who deal with a variety of special needs issues.
"Not only growing up with a younger brother who suffers from multiple disabilities but also pursuing a career in the medical to field, specifically working with special needs children after high school gave me the desire to hold a Special Olympics called 'Dream, Believe & Acheive'," Zieglar said.
Zieglar, who plans to attend Carrington College in Sacramento as part of the dental hygienist program, says she has always had a close relationships with her brother and thought a Special Needs Olympics was the perfect opportunity to give back to the community and more specifically give back to a group of individuals she says has used as inspiration throughout her entire life.
"My goal was to provide a Special Olympics that made kids feel as if they were able to overcome anything anyone without a disability would be able to achieve, and that is what exactly happened," Zieglar said.
After months of preparation and anticipation, on Friday, April 4, as many as 100 individuals filed into the Minarets gym cheering with excitement and support as participants took on several pre-arranged events including a wheel chair race, bean bag throw, softball throwing contest, poster creating contest, hula hoop contest, tootsie pop game from a bail of hay, hopscotch and an obstacle course.
The event included special needs classes from Yosemite High School, Coarsegold, various members of the Mountain Area and an adult transition class from Liberty High School in Madera taught by Jennifer Gardner.
It was noted by several in attendance the event not only gave inspiration to those participating, but also to many students from Minarets who had not been faced with an opportunity to exposure themselves to the wide scope of special needs students and adults.
The event gave an extra ribbon of surprise to certain members of the community whose families include a special needs child, including Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson who was able to see his own child participate in the afternoon's events.
Nelson's 15-year-old, who deals with a severe case of cerebral palsy, attends Yosemite High special education class taught by Lori Blate and with his two eldest children attending Minarets Nelson is unfortunately unable to see all his children on campus. The Special Needs Olympics gave Nelson a unique opportunity to experience the excitement of having all his kids on campus at the same time.
Nelson said it was clear by the turnout and enthusiasm expressed by all in attendance that the Mountain Area needed such a warm-hearted worthwhile event. One that Nelson hopes to continue the tradition for years to come.
"This gives our special needs kids an opportunity to be acknowledge regardless where they live in the Mountain Area and this is something we hope to sustain and maintain for the future," Nelson said. "Hailey did a masterful job to bring adults together in productive ways to get this project going and she also rallied her friends to get this going and now this might be here to stay and many people in then community."
Minarets Principal Michael Niehoff backed Nelson's thought that the project is something that they will look to continue for years to come.
"This event, in particular, was a special one as it brought such smiles to all of the participants. We hope it continues in the future as a legacy for our school and community," said Niehoff. "Minarets is extremely proud to host an even like this and to have it be facilitated by students."
The days events concluded with an awards ceremony in which everyone who attended was acknowledged for their unique contributions and desire to achieve despite obstacles they are faced with in their competition and everyday life.
Zieglar expressed gratitude for the people who made the event possible and was adamant on how much of the success relied on individual volunteers inside and outside of the school. Zieglar said if it was not for the help of so many she may not have been able to pull off such a touching, successful event aimed at bringing the community together.
"I would like to thank all the donors who donated their own money into my senior legacy experience and a special thanks for all of the volunteers who stepped up and made the event possible. I am so grateful to have all of the Minarets High School students and out of school volunteers who stepped up and helped me out, I couldn't have done it without them," Zieglar said.