KINGSTON — Savannah Winslow ran with a wide grin and keen anticipation — she knew she’d get another ribbon pinned to her shirt at the far side of the field.
“That’s her third time,” Special Education Teacher Chris Arasteh noted, the 5-year-old already trotting back with that ribbon on her shirt. “She just won’t stop running.”
Thursday’s annual Luzerne Intermediate Unit Field Day had enough of everything to go around for about 500 special needs students at Wyoming Valley West stadium: Line dancing on one end of the bleachers, live music on the other. Cotton candy, sno-cones and popcorn drew crowds to one concession stand all day, while pizza slices and hot dogs were doled out by the dozen for lunch at another.
“We brought in 150 pizzas, I think, and something like 50 pounds of hot dogs,” LIU Executive Director Anthony Grieco said. “We have a lot of great sponsors.”
“A lot” being 19 companies and organizations that donated money, food, equipment and time. Total it up and the event would cost about $8,000, Assistant Executive Director Greg Koons estimated.
Field Day evolved from the Luzerne County Special Olympics that had been organized annually by the LIU, an agency that provides a variety of services to area schools, primarily special education. In 2007, the LIU administration decided to drop the Special Olympics affiliation and make the event a looser mix of athletics and entertainment.
It has developed into more of a carnival atmosphere as a result. There are still 50-yard dashes, wheelchair races and long jumps, but they occur alongside “spider ball toss” (the squishy ball has “legs”), karaoke and Yolf — think mini-golf with mallets.
Groups of students wore shirts with whimsical color names like paprika, sapphire and pistachio as they went from event to event. Ribbons were given out liberally, and some students, like Tracy Swanson, became avid collectors. By the time Tracy finishes all the 50-yard dashes, long jumps and other events before heading to lunch, the ribbons practically hid her T-shirt.
“We love the IU!” Tracy bellowed along with Arasteh, who works in a life-skills class at Greater Nanticoke Area’s K.M. Smith elementary school.
“This is a wonderful chance for these kids to get out and run around,” Aresteh said as Tracy high-fived anyone nearby. “Some of them don’t even have playgrounds at home.”
She paused long enough to tell Kahri Barnes, 8, to stop running. “Remember you have asthma.” But the warning was no match for the smile he gleamed after getting his own ribbon.
“These are the best kids in the world,” Aresteh said, scanning the field with obvious pride.
And from the looks of it Thursday, the happiest.