A big white circus tent, balloons and the sound of children laughing on a playground: It could have been almost anywhere on a spring day, but last Friday it was the scene at the annual Challenge Day at James E. Duckworth School in Beltsville. For Duckworth students, who have multiple disabilities, many days are especially challenging.
This day, though, was mostly fun. There was cycling, baseball, track, bowling and weight lifting -- a time for students and even some teachers to attempt their personal best.
"On Challenge Day, everybody is a winner," said Jay Bass, a special education teacher at Duckworth, a public school with just over 100 students, all from Prince George's County.
Bass ran the aquatics contests. Some 300 volunteers from several Maryland schools and community groups helped with the day's events.
Margaret Adjei was all smiles as her 12-year-old son Nii received his gold medal for weight lifting in the school gym. "This is nice," she said.
Tracy Barra, 10, a fourth-grade student at the Beltsville Academic Center, didn't mind getting soaked in a pint-size pool as she helped 6-year-old Marco Guerra splash and have a good time. "I helped Marco with his muscles," she said.
Don Gulick, a teacher at Duckworth, observed Tracy helping Marco; the boy is in his class. Though Gulick himself has mild cerebral palsy and struggles to speak at times, he said his disability doesn't stand in the way of his teaching.
"No matter what your situation is, you still can have dreams, hopes and abilities to help other people," Gulick said.
Trinell Bowman, who is in her first year as principal of Duckworth, talked about the importance of Challenge Day.
"We show the world that our students can accomplish sporting events with adaptations," she said.
"We take normal sporting events such as baseball, football, basketball and wrestling, and adapt [them to] the children's ability level."
Students at Duckworth range in age from 5 to 21 and come from the northern part of Prince George's, including the communities of Brentwood, College Park, Hyattsville, Laurel and Mount Rainier, said Gail Kushner, a teacher at the school and the publicity chairwoman for the event.
"Thank you for a beautiful Challenge Day," Marlene Coburn told Bowman as her husband, mother, sister and children left the school. Coburn's 10-year-old son, Clark, attends Duckworth, and the Coburns, who live in Laurel, said Challenge Day is a big event for them.
"This is family time," Coburn said. "This is a time for Clark's cousins, his grandmother and his aunt to come out and see his school in the same way he supports them when they have concerts and different events."
As Marlene talked, Clark's father, Craig Coburn, dangled the medal his son received in a golf event. "It's wonderful to see him compete in sport activities. They do a great thing here. We have been coming to this event for the last four or five years."
The games had many sponsors, including the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, which brought more than 100 volunteers.
Others who attended included a color guard unit from the ROTC program at nearby High Point High School, the Buck Lodge Middle School Band and officers from the College Park barrack of the Maryland State Police. Dan Conway, a teacher at the private Barrie School in Silver Spring, brought student volunteers to help out as well.