HARLINGEN — Everyone crouched with legs bent, elbows on knees, staring at the goal line.
Suddenly the football was in the air. The Harlingen High School Cardinal quarterback handed the ball off to Jose Garcia, a special needs student, and everyone erupted with excitement.
The entire Cardinal football team, the cheerleaders and the drill team delivered loud applause, as did spectators in the stands yesterday morning.
Five young men and six young women in the HHS special needs program took part in a practice session at the school’s mini-stadium.
The young men played football, and the young women, one of them Melissa Martinez, got to cheer them on.
“I want to be a cheerleader,” said Melissa, 18, before the practice session started.
“I feel wonderful,” she added.
Greg Garcia, 17, had sweat beading off his face, reflecting the mood of the morning.
“I’m a little bit excited,” he said, waving his hand in the warm air.
Harlingen High School Coach Edward Ledesma said school district coaches and teachers had decided to give the special needs students some real world experience in the field of sports.
“We’re having some special needs students come out and get to put a helmet on and shoulder pads and we’re gonna have them score a touchdown,” Ledesma said before the event.
“There are going to be kids from the school in the stands going crazy for them and just kind of give them a special day,” he said.
But there were more than kids in the stands.
Belinda Olivarez was there to cheer her son Kyle, 18, also a special needs student with autism.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I wanna see how he does. This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to do this so let’s see how the kids play. I think it will help him like socializing, his mobility. I think it’s good for him. It’s a way for them to exercise also.”
That’s how HCISD Special Olympics Coach Mark Prado saw it. He was at the event shooting video of the kids playing.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase our kids,” Prado said. “They started this last year.”
Prado added that some students were in the special needs program and some were also on the school’s Special Olympics team.
“It makes the kids feel great that they’re doing something special,” he said. “It also promotes the program that we have going on in the school. They put on the pads and helmet and everything and feel like they’re actually part of the team.”
Administrators were likewise enthused about the whole activity.
“We’re super excited,” said Patricia Muniz, assistant principal.
“This is a great opportunity for special needs students to participate in a football mini game so that they can feel part of the community,” she said.
There was no containing the thrill everyone seemed to feel as the special needs kids and Olympians enjoyed their moment of victory with the football team, the drill team and the cheerleading squad.