Students from 15 Kern County high schools ran in 100-meter races, tossed a Nerf javelin and jumped makeshift hurdles Thursday at Centennial High School's sixth annual SDD Track Meet.
More than 220 Kern High School District students enrolled in programs for the severely developmentally delayed joined dozens of volunteers swarming Centennial's football stadium for four hours in T-shirts color-coded according to various schools and school clubs.
Darby Garris, a senior at Centennial, volunteered to help at the event as part of a peer counseling program at her school.
She was standing in a long line of students waiting for a turn at shooting basketballs with Kaitlyn Sims, an SDD student she was helping.
Kaitlyn happened to see a much shorter line waiting to roll a jumbo ball about half the size of a Fiat 500 and decided to wait for that activity instead.
After a reporter asked them questions, Kaitlyn said, "Yay! We're going to be famous together."
Both girls enjoyed the event for the same reason -- "because it's fun," Kaitlyn said.
Other competitions included the softball throw, broad jump, long jump, kickball challenge and hurdles races.
Stephanie Lee, a Centennial special education teacher and the event's founder, said the activities were beneficial for all students, no matter their developmental abilities.
She said the activities give special education students examples of appropriate social skills. General education students gain insight into the special qualities of peers with severe developmental disabilities.
"It's good for both sides," Lee said.
Michael Janusz, watched his 17-year-old son, Kevin, run a 400-meter race, and bragged he was a popular student at Centennial because he's part of the school's track team.
Running races and attending school dances, as his son does, is what Janusz wanted after adopting him 12 years ago. Kevin had been diagnosed with leukemia and developmental delays.
"We wanted to make sure that he was just like any other kid," Janusz said.
Organizers of Thursday's event said that was their goal, too. They wanted participants to have both the experience of being part of a team while also striving for individual success.
Stephen Ramirez, a special education teacher at Centennial, shouted "Go, go Lucia," as one of his students at the event ran in a 100-meter race.
Ken Gabin, an instructional aide at West High School, had rooted in the same way for Jaynisha McQueen, whom he called "JJ."
Gabin helped keep Jaynisha focused on the race, then watched her finish it.
"It's amazing what these kids can do if given the opportunity," he said.