Hayley Schroeder, a St. Clair High School junior, was going for the gold at the St. Clair High School Student Council Special Olympics Friday.

For the past two months, she and her classmates have spent an hour every day running laps on the track or practicing their pitches on the softball field. For the past eight months, they have sold coffee and snacks to teachers, using the proceeds to fund their team’s shirts, transport and more.

On April 23, the games began. 

A total of 27 athletes from St. Clair R-XIII School District faced off against about 25 Sullivan School District and Franklin County Special Education Cooperative students at the high school track.

“The eyes are on them, and now they’re the stars of the school,” said high school paraprofessional Travis Johnson. He also is the St. Clair Special Olympics, assistant football and girls basketball coach.

The students competed in the 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash, as well as the long jump, softball throw, motorized 50-meter dash for wheelchair users and wheelchair obstacle course. Winners stood on the podium where a first responder gave them their medals.

“It’s just pure joy,” said Sarah Dierker, business and marketing teacher who advises the student council.

The day began with celebrations as well: The drumline performed, the high school’s Air Force JROTC Color Guard presented the colors, and junior Bradley Counts led the torch relay. Several students read the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Schroeder, 18, recited that very same oath the day before the event. It’s a good motto, she said, but it’s not the only takeaway from the games.

“Teamwork is important in life,” she said. “It helps you get through anything you need to go through.”

The annual event had been canceled last year due to COVID-19. That makes this year’s event extra important, Dierker said.

“We have some kids that are pretty athletic,” Johnson said. “This is a good chance for them to be able to show what they can do.”

As for Schroeder, she spent the day racing, and her months of work paid off. She competed in the 100-meter dash, softball throw and long jump, and she landed herself the gold medal — in all three of her events.

It was a competitive day, but in between, she could let herself relax. After eating healthily to prepare for the event (lots of broccoli, snap peas, carrots, bananas and apples, she said) she could enjoy a snow cone, offered by Dana’s Shaved Ice for free to all participants and volunteers.

This story has been updated with Schroeder’s results.