Children and Youth

Gifted Games promotes athleticism and inclusion at annual event

With 436 registered athletes and over 671 participants at Friday's event, the Gifted Games continues to shine as an example of inclusion and inter-district cooperation for local students.

Gilroy High School hosted the annual Gifted Games last Friday, May 18. The Gifted Games, which originated in Hollister, is an athletic competition that celebrates inclusion in athletics in a non-competitive atmosphere for students with disabilities in San Benito County and Gilroy.

Started at San Benito High School 13 years ago, the Gifted Games was created to encourage healthy habits for students in the Life Skills program on campus.

“The event was originally named the Baler Gifted Games and it was created 13 years ago, said Tania Sauer, an education specialist for moderate/severe students at San Benito High School and coordinator of the Gifted Games. "Only students from the SBHS Life Skills program participated and it was more field games like a potato sack race, obstacle course, egg and spoon race, and relay race."

What started out with about 30 students in its inception has now turned into a multi-school event with hundreds of participating students.

At Friday’s event there were 24 schools in attendance, 436 registered athletes, and a total of 671 overall participants which included 31 peer helpers from San Benito High School.

“We invited all students with disabilities who lived within San Benito County in 2009,” Sauer said. “It was a great opportunity for schools to join together for a great cause and give students with special needs the opportunity of participating in an athletic event at no cost to them. We invited Gilroy schools in 2010. When we decided to alternate hosting the event between Gilroy High and SBHS, we decided to change the name to just Gifted Games.”

Though the games were held at Gilroy High School this year, participants could feel nothing except unity while participating.

"My favorite part of the Gifted Games was definitely the opening ceremony," said Samantha Bloom, a peer helper from San Benito High School. "It was incredible seeing all the Gilroy students cheering on the kids as they walked out with their school banner."

Events that students were able to participate in Friday included the mile, 50-yard dash, 100-yard dash, long jump, soccer ball kick, frisbee toss, turbo jav throw, and softball throw. The event also included cheerleading squads from both San Benito High School and Gilroy High School.

Vanessa Chavarria, an athlete from San Benito High School, said her favorite parts of the day included running with her sister Chloe, doing the events with friends, and dancing with Gifted Cheer.

As explained by Sauer, though the adults and staff at different sites work together to get students to the event and do the behind the scenes work, it is the peer helpers and volunteers that really help bring the event to life.

“My job is to get our athletes to the event,” Sauer said. “Once they are there, it is all up to the students that run the events to make it memorable. They are in charge of the stations and keeping the kids on task. I could not make this event happen without them!”

Davana Cervantes, currently a senior at San Benito High School, is one such volunteer who became a peer helper her sophomore year to help create a more inclusive environment at the high school.

“Both of my little brothers are in special classes because of learning disabilities,” Cervantes said. “I saw how much my brothers struggled and I saw kids at San Benito were kind of inclusive but needed more help.”

For Cervantes, events such as the Gifted Games are important to promote unity and inclusion for all.

“[The Gifted Games] shows the kids that they are special and they are important," Cervantes said. "It lets them have fun without being under pressure. It’s showing them you are included, you aren’t different. Everybody has disabilities.”

Sam Sauer, who is married to Tania, is a special education teacher at Gilroy High School. Sam got involved in the program in 2010 when the pair decided to collaborate on the Gifted Games. In the last eight years Sam explained that this event is something that the students at Gilroy High School get excited for every school year.

“Our athletes look forward to this event every year,” Sam said. “They save their medals, practice, and feel a true sense of accomplishment.”

When asked to reflect on his favorite aspect of being part of the Gifted Games, Sam said, “The athlete smiles. The proud look on the faces of parents. To see all the athletes striving to perform their best.”

Cooper Aiello, who competed for San Benito High School, is one such athlete who enjoyed the event. Aiello said that in addition to enjoying running against his friend Adam in the 100-yard dash, he also enjoyed saving his Gifted Games medals.

Sauer explained that this event is important not just for high school age students, but for children of all ages who attend.

“What has been the most meaningful for me is when a parent of a preschooler attended the event and told me how wonderful the feeling was seeing other students with disabilities similar to her own son running and jumping,” Sauer said. “I remember her telling me that it gave her hope that her child would also be able to learn those skills.”

Bloom may have summed the event up best: “Events like this are important because they allow all students to be included. With the Gifted Games our students are able to participate in events like any other student. They get a chance to be the star and feel important, which they very much deserve."

Becky Bonner

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.