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HHS honored for work with special-needs athletes





When Hays High School was recognized with the community support award from Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas last week, Principal Marty Straub was on hand to receive the award.

The award is given annually to a Northwest Kansas individual or business "who has shown DSNWK outstanding support," according to the presentation.

Straub is quick to share credit for the award, though, for "recognizing student-athletes with special needs and making them a part of the Hays High community," according to information prepared by DSNWK.

Four years ago, several Hays High staff members were disappointed with the number of Hays High kids in Special Olympics, Straub said.

"We had a vested interest because we spend so much time with kids," he said.

So Straub and special education teachers Deb Weatherbee, Andrea Zody and Jeana Dinkel decided to do something about it.

During the 2010-11 school year, they organized promotions, but "it didn't go very well," Straub said.

So they looked at what they could do differently, including contacting Chris Hahn, president of Special Olympics Kansas,

They came up with the idea of providing time and a gym during the school day for the students to practice.

Straub asked Arc of Central Plains to provide a coach for a team.

That drew a few more participants during the 2011-12 school year, but last year Hays Recreation Commission superintendent Roger Bixenman offered help through their super pops program.

That's when the numbers grew to as many as 17 participants.

"ARC is the sponsor, but we want our kids to have the maroon and gold," Straub said of the school colors. "We find a way to get them shirts."

"Most of our kids never have the opportunity to ever be a athlete for Hays High School, and for them to put on the maroon and gold and be a Hays High athlete and go out on that gym floor and have the whole student body cheer for them, the band playing, that was huge," Weatherbee said.

"It makes them feel part of the fabric here at Hays High," Zody said. "For them to be involved in similar activities, it's the commonality then instead of the differences that shine."

The focus is on basketball, but "some of the students do bowling, some of them do cheerleading," Dinkel said.

Sometimes during seminar period, the cheerleaders will help coach the Special Olympics cheer participants, and Hays High basketball players will scrimmage with the team.

"We think that Special Olympics has a lot to offer for these kids to know how to act socially with their peers and in unfamiliar settings," Straub said. "We want them when they leave us to be as active as they are in our school. ... It's part of our transition program, part of our program to get them ready to go out and be as independent as possible. They're a blast to see on game day."