Special Olympics screenings help students become participants

This year, Butler High student Jeffrey Sanchez will be participating in the Special Olympics North Carolina for the first time — thanks to a free MedFest screening event recently offered by the organization in partnership with Carolinas HealthCare Systems. MedFest is a Special Olympics initiative combining health and outreach, helping athletes who have difficulty getting to a doctor to obtain their valid and current medical forms to participate.

More than 22 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Special Olympic athletes, ages eight and up, attended the screenings to become eligible for three years.

"I'm going to play bocce. It's like bowling," said Jeffrey. "It's hard but it's fun. I've been practicing a lot and I'll be able to compete soon."

Butler parent Sandy Hutchins, who accompanied her son to the screening, was thankful that it was being offered. Hutchins said her son looks forward to being part of the Special Olympics every year. She has seen his social skills improve and his confidence increase as a result.

"Instead of making a separate doctor appointment for him, we were able to come here with many of his teammates," said Hutchins. "My son has participated in the Special Olympics for many years. He's competed in basketball, soccer, bowling and ice skating. He loves it and our entire family looks forward to it."

Fifty-five volunteers from Carolinas Rehabilitation and throughout Carolinas HealthCare System screened more than 200 CMS athletes. The screenings included measuring height, weight, blood pressure, body-mass index and a vision test.

Randolph Middle teacher Kim Glass said it was great to be able to tell parents that they could have their children screened.

medfes_insidepic1.jpg"Parents have a lot going on and if we can help them with this one thing, I'm all for it," said Glass. "I want my students to be able to participate. It's great for the entire school because our students practice with typical peers. It's a way to really unite the school community."

Kelly Merkl, the Special Olympics North Carolina youth initiatives director, said this was the second time the organization had hosted MedFest.

"We received great feedback from the prior year so we wanted to continue to provide this service with the help of CHS," said Merkl. "We are very happy to see that more schools signed up and that more athletes attended."

Participating high schools were West Mecklenburg, Garinger, North Mecklenburg, Rocky River, Harding, Hopewell, Mallard Creek and Butler. Participating middle schools were Northridge, Northeast, Ranson, Whitewater and Randolph. Participating elementary schools were Huntersville, Winget Park, Selwyn, Croft Community School, Lawrence Orr, Albermarle Road and Oakhurst STEAM Academy. The Exceptional Children School Metro also participated.