SOMO Letter Banquet

Student-led effort to hold letter banquet for Special Olympics athletes
Posted on 05/03/2022
(Back row, from left) Physical education teacher Joan Lack, Dominique Baucom, Karson Busse, Hayden Downs, Hunter Lawson, Christopher Chapman, Trevor Collins, Emily Faith, Charles Harris and coach Kayla Keith; (front row, left to right) Jason Bell, Skylar Elledge, Nicole Weatherford, Reba Mace, Haley James, D’Angelo Keel and Maison Dennis.

For the first time, Poplar Bluff High School hosted an athletic letter banquet for the families of students who participated in the recent Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) spring games.

Recognizing the track and field event participants in the same way other sports are celebrated, the student-led effort quickly gained support from teachers and administrators, and may even become the gold standard for other districts, according to officials.

“All students deserve the same amount of recognition and attention,” said PBHS communication arts teacher Jennie Randolph, who serves as co-adviser of Student Council with colleague Stephen Patty. “Special Olympics athletes are no different, and it’s time we show that.”

A total of 23 student-athletes lettered during the inaugural banquet on Tuesday, April 26, based on attendance at the spring games and good citizenship. Chevrons will be issued for additional years for eligible students, according to R-I Special Services Director Mindy Garrett. Individual awards were presented by Special Olympics coach Kayla Keith and physical education teacher Joan Lack for categories such as: positive attitude, leadership and comic relief.

PBHS Principal Mike Owen opened the ceremony by noting how SOMO representatives said they would seek to push nationwide Poplar Bluff's model of holding pep rallies across campus, supplying banners for seniors as well as the opportunity to letter. “This is actually exceptional,” commented SOMO Development Director Penny Williams in an email.

In Randolph’s leadership elective, students were charged at the beginning of the year with initiating projects that would make an impact at PBHS. Sophomores Nya Cram and Grace Neighbors chose to build upon the atmosphere of inclusion for SOMO athletes.

“What drove me to pick this was honestly my first Special Olympics, seeing how many people in our community loved these athletes and how excited our athletes in our school were about it,” Nya reflected. “I wanted their excitement to be there all year and I wanted to make them feel as happy as they were the one day, all [yearlong].”

The spring games have been hosted at Fred M. Morrow Stadium for decades, and StuCo is in charge of overseeing Victor’s Village, arranging light activities between events. Randolph’s leadership students committed to showing further support by creating banners for the upperclassmen with help from business teacher Pam Davis and the Mules Booster Club, plus providing the follow-up acknowledgement at the secondary level.

“We saw how much hard work these athletes put into Special Olympics, and wanted to give them equal recognition,” Grace said. “…It’s been great helping to influence change at PBHS and [helping] the athletes show off their talents.”

In March, PBHS StuCo was the only recipient in Missouri to earn the Award of Merit in the SOMO School of Character program for displaying outstanding commitment to individuals with intellectual disabilities, a true understanding of unity, and a passion for raising awareness and funds for local student-athletes.

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Cutline: (Back row, from left) Physical education teacher Joan Lack, Dominique Baucom, Karson Busse, Hayden Downs, Hunter Lawson, Christopher Chapman, Trevor Collins, Emily Faith, Charles Harris and coach Kayla Keith; (front row, left to right) Jason Bell, Skylar Elledge, Nicole Weatherford, Reba Mace, Haley James, D’Angelo Keel and Maison Dennis. Not present were Michael Breeden, Jaylum Hood-Daniels, Renee Huck, Dajireh Moore, Shawn Politte, Drake Tallevast, Julie Watson and Makiyah Watson.

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