P-Club Bridges Gap For Special Needs Students

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by Jake Ryle

ANCHORAGE, Alaska--Friday nights for most are all about having fun. For one group of mentors, and their athletes, fun comes in the form of learning.

The "P-Club", or Partnership Club, is a club at each Anchorage area high school which promotes partnering mentors with special needs students.

Chris Lisenby, Meet Director for the area's high school races says the work being done in Alaska with the P-Club is ground-breaking.

"Nobody else in the United States is doing this. Alaska's pioneering this whole process of integrating special education and special needs kids into regular sports."

The regular sports these students will be able to participate in range from the 4x100 relay, to the shotput and long-jump, all the way to a 100 meter dash.

Lisenby says the partnership begins first in school--by helping students learn valuable social skills, which can sometimes be a challenge for special needs students.

"Then, they take it to the next level, and they compete in the sport together," Lisenby added.

Jim Balamaci, President and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska, echoed Lisenby's comments by stating, "Our students with or without disabilities are getting ready to be a part of a high school track team. It's a huge event!" Balamaci said, "What I love about this--it's a Friday night, the kids without disabilities, the support of the coaches, and the officials, and teachers just maks me think why I live in Alaska."

While the Partnership Club currently receives mentors from high school track teams, the future goal is to reach out to more mentors who aren't currently on the track team--in order to maximize participation at each school.

"The ASAA believes everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of a high school activity," Balamaci added, "That's what we're doing. This is history that we're making."

These special needs track and field athletes have been participating in almost monthly meets. So far, Eagle River, East, Service, Dimond and West have participated in the meets--and the other three Anchorage schools have plans to attend future meets.

While the "P-Club" may seem like fun and games, the mentors valuable role of teaching social lessons in society carries over to the track. High school mentors help the special needs athletes check-in with officials, attend practices so each member can learn the rules and regulations for each event, and they even assist/adjust their partners to ensure no disqualifications are had.

These athletes will be competing at a regional track and field meet--with the winning slots in each event moving on to the state competition.

"On May 18th in Fairbanks, we'll be running alongside the state finals." Balamaci said with enthusiasm.

So if you're in attendance at this year's state track and field championships--be prepared for the best this state has to offer from a running, and volunteer standpoint.