Fun wins at the Exceptional Games

Messages written in chalk covered the sidewalk leading to the soccer and track fields of Jamestown High School.

“You can do it!” “Good luck.” “Have fun.”

Along with the text and colorful illustrations, balloons were tied to the surrounding fences and blowing in the wind. Today, the fields were being used for something a little more fun than sports practices. They were being used for the Exceptional Games.

Special Education students from across Williamsburg-James City County Schools came together at Jamestown High School Thursday for the 2018 Exceptional Games.

The Exceptional Games is a field day of sorts with a wide range of games including track and field events, football toss, soccer kick, water balloon toss, hula hoop and bean bag toss. However, unlike other sporting events, which are treated as competitions, students were supported in their efforts by student and adult volunteers as well as general education buddies.

“Field day is more of an elementary school thing, so I can’t talk to it as well, but it’s more for, from my children's’ experience, the general education kids and not the students with disabilities,” said Katey Peterkin, one of the lead organizers of the Exceptional Games. “So with (the Exceptional Games), we want it all about the students with disabilities.”

This event recognizes the importance of making sure all students feel strong connections to their schools, their peers and caring adults.

“We really work on this to celebrate everyone’s abilities and that everyone is a champion. It doesn’t matter if you’re different than someone else or how you look,” said Missy Furr, an organizer of the games. “Just for everyone to have fun and come together.”

Furr said while the event wants to make every student feel special, it isn’t the “everybody gets an A” mentality.

“These students are exceptional students who are typically in classrooms away from their general education population,” Furr said. “Today they get to be like everybody else … we are lucky to give these kids a moment to shine and be just like every other kid.”

The event was sponsored by the Jamestown High School Exceptional Eagles Club. The club allows self-contained special education students interact with students they normally wouldn’t get to meet. Furr said students made real friendships with each other and the games were originally an ending celebration to the club. After telling other schools what the Exceptional Eagles Club had done, other schools became interested in the event.

The Exceptional Games were launched last year for all W-JCC middle and high school students. This year, the games were expanded to include elementary students so children as young as kindergarten could participate.

Volunteers from across the school division helped make the event a success, including those from central office.

“We sent out a call to central office to our adults there, because they started working with students and as they moved up in their career they’re no longer working one-on-one with students,” Furr said. “Our students, it’s a lot of our club members, a lot of people from last year, word of mouth had spread … and its just grown.”

Peterkin said they chose activities based on last year’s student feedback. For example, they bought three times the amount of water balloons this year since the balloon toss was one of the student’s favorite activities last year. They also ditched potato sack races for frisbees.

On the way back to their busses, students were cheered by volunteers who gave them gold medals.

“Did I participate well?” a pint-sized elementary schooler asked his teacher while being given a medal.

“Yes, you participated well,” she said.

Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette