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The Special Olympians at La Joya High School have made an impact on their entire campus.
This year’s seniors have overcome and accomplished many challenges that have helped them excel as role models to their peers. According to their sponsors, Head Coach Leobardo Ramirez and Edna Garcia, they have balanced schoolwork, sports and extracurricular activities as they participated in pep-rallies, the homecoming game, competitions, parades, dances and on-the-job training are memories they will forever cherish in their hearts.
“The parents were very involved and the kids are very energetic,” Ramirez said. “They’re willing to participate in every sport – they’re very good kids, those seniors.”
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, Garcia said she “knew this one was one for the books.” Diana Grimaldo and George French received their Food Handlers Certificate as part of their OJT [On-the-Job Training] course. Victoria Villarreal was honored as one of the Students of the Week in which she expressed her future goals and proud accomplishments.
For the first year in school history, two of La Joya High School’s Special Olympics athletes ran for Homecoming court: Jesus Alonzo ran for Homecoming King and Victoria Villarreal for Homecoming Queen. All their fellow athletes joined them during the homecoming parade, where they displayed their school spirit.
“[Villarreal] was in the top three, and that was a big accomplishment,” Ramirez said. “They did really well – I think they should have won.”
Students were eager to initiate bowling practices awaiting their competition in November, when they strove towards a gold medal at the tournament held at Main Event. All the La Joya High School Special Olympics seniors brought medals back that qualified them into our state competition.
“They become very serious and very focused when they’re going to compete,” Ramirez said. “We feel so honored, happy and awesome because they’re doing so much for themselves.”
According to Special Education FLS Teacher Edna Garcia, the students were ecstatic when they were honored with a state qualifiers pep-rally. That weekend students rose above the rest and displayed “why they were chosen as state qualifiers – to bring pride and honor to their school with medals around their necks.”
Ramirez has decades of experience as a coach in this field – after working in this capacity for 15 years at MCISD, he joined La Joya, where he has been since.
“It’s not just about competing, it’s about learning the social skills that they need to have to mingle in the outside world with all different kinds of lives,” Ramirez said. “Socialization is very important to learn – it’s not only the physical, but the mental and social skills.”
Ramirez added that the entire student population at La Joya High School has embraced the Special Olympians. In February, the best in basketball met at Sharyland Pioneer High School. Garcia said the students excelled once again, bringing home several medals.
“Our kids are very good kids,” Ramirez said. “The entire student population knows that our kids should be treated equally, without discrimination.”
A new sport was introduced this year – swimming. Practiced at the La Joya High School natatorium in their Sports and Learning Complex, seniors were eager to have been exposed to swimming training. Garcia said they have the “power to endure this new sport and great progress as they await future swimming competitions.”
The La Joya High School Special Olympics senior athletes have also proven to have great and talented voices, according to their coaches. Raul Hernandez, Victoria Villarreal and Carolina Campos represented the program at various choir concerts.
“Right now, [the program] is doing a lot of inclusion,” Ramirez said. “It’s going to be wonderful, with unified sports. It should be even better than it is right now – there have been a lot more volunteers than when I started many years ago.”
Garcia and Ramirez said that as the year comes to an end, they would like their seniors to know they are tremendously proud of all they have accomplished, and wish them a great summer.