Special needs students from four Brownsville Independent School District elementary schools got to experience having a partner and being part of the team at the 22nd annual Buddy Fun Meet on Tuesday at Sams Memorial Stadium.

Each year, the Buddy Fun Meet pairs students with disabilities with their non-disabled peers for a day of athletic activities and learning how to interact with each other. This year, the emphasis was on “no touch sports” due to the limitations imposed by the pandemic, but there was plenty of space for the kind of events that are the hallmark of any track and field meet, even if modified slightly.

Special Services Director Adrianna Lippa, BISD Assistant Athletic Director Sandra Powers and a team of about 100 teachers, counselors and volunteers joined forces as four main event played out on a sun-splashed morning on the Sams playing field for about 100 special needs students. The giant Sams scoreboard provided instant replays of everything from the 25-yard dash to agility drills and beginning soccer instruction.

“What’s important to us is that we have our kids interacting with each other through sporting activities, and that they’re helping each other, supporting each other, working together as a team and building relationships among each other,” Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said the meet also served as an introduction to Special Olympics-type events, which the University Interscholastic League is in the process of elevating to be on par with regular UIL sporting events, as mandated by Zariah’s Law. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation into law earlier this year after special education advocates, including from Brownsville, lobbied the Legislature to give special needs students equal athletic opportunity with their general education peers. The law is named after Zariah Zarate of Brownsville.

Gutierrez also said by the time the students at Tuesday’s event are in high school it is likely there will be competitive UIL teams for special needs students. He said he hoped the Buddy Fun Meet would serve as an introduction to competitive athletics for the special needs students, who attend Aiken, Brite, El Jardin and Garza elementary schools. The event rotates annually among BISD’s 34 elementary schools.

“I just think events like this offer kids an opportunity to do things that otherwise they wouldn’t have,” Anysia R. Trevino, deputy superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said. “For example, the little boy that sang the National Anthem this morning just radiated after hearing his voice on the loudspeaaker system in the stadium. It was just overwhelming, even for the spectators, because he realized ‘my voice is being heard,’ you know, throughout. He was thrilled, he was pumping. I was pumping, I was crying thinking otherwise these kids wouldn’t have had that opportunity. And to see a general ed student working collaboratively with a special ed student running around the field holding the torch also demonstrates that in this world it’s a team. I don’t stand alone. Kids don’t stand alone, in BISD they stand together. That was very powerful.”

Cruz Hernandez, a junior from Hanna Early College who got involved in the Buddy Fun Meet at his brother’s urging, served as a buddy for two special ed students, a boy and a girl.

“Right now we’re talking about if you feel blue, you have a buddy and that buddy can be with you if you’re feeling down. They can help you laugh and they can help you out with your homework,” he said.

Hernandez was hanging out at the counselors corner, where students were getting guidance from special needs counselors on how to deal with day-to-day challenges.

Yvette Zamorano, an eight-year special services counselor, said she drives to her job at BISD from Lyford because she loves the work.

She said the Buddy Fun Meet presented an opportunity “to kind of leave the office, be out of your element, be yourself, have a little fun, act a little silly and then the kids really respond in a positive way.”

Annette Torres, another special needs counselor, said she and Zamorano both work at the middle school and high school level, “so getting to be with the elementary kids was amazing.”

Another Buddy Fun Meet takes place Thursday morning for four more schools.

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