The Special Olympics USA Games is an important athletic event for athletes with special needs and their families.
This year, the Special Olympics held its national competition at the Exploria Stadium in downtown Orlando, Florida. And what would an Olympics be without an opening ceremony?
Most of the athletes participated in the opening ceremony and their families wanted to be there. To make this happen, school bus drivers from the School District of Osceola County and Orange County Public Schools took time from their summer vacations to drive school buses that carried the families to and from the opening event. About 158 Orange County bus drivers and 70 Osceola bus drivers participated.
Did You Know?
The Special Olympics USA is held every four years. Athletes from across the country compete in various summer sports. More than 5,500 athletes and coaches participate each year. The 2022 event took place in Orlando, Florida from June 5 through June 12.
They came to the ESPN Wide World of Sports on the Disney property in Orlando to pick up about 1,800 family members and drive them to the stadium. After the ceremony, the drivers carried about 2,300 family members and many of the athletes back.
“This was a very eye-opening event. It was good to see the Special Olympics athletes parade and our employees got to see the athletes,” said Mario Dixon, area manager with the Osceola School District, who organized the bus transportation. “It was a unique and humbling experience. The athletes have limitations, but they were competing.” Some of the athletes’ family members were also disabled and had to be transported in wheelchairs or faced other challenges. Regardless, they were enthusiastic and wanted to cheer on their athletes.
“We had to help some of the family members, and it was great to see the smiles on their faces. They were so happy to be on the buses going to the ceremony,” Dixon added. “For some of our drivers, this was a first-time experience. We were happy to greet the families.”
Dixon explained he was proud to play a leadership role in transporting the families to and from the opening ceremony.
School bus drivers from the Orange County Public Schools participated by driving the athletes and Special Olympics officials from Disney’s All-Star Music Resorts and other hotels to the stadium for the opening ceremony. Orange County provided 157 drivers and buses for the athletes and one driver and one bus for the Special Olympics officials. It was a challenge to get a large group of school bus drivers together during the summer vacation and on a Sunday, but in the end, the drivers came through.
“We were sending waves of 20 buses at a time, and we had to load all the buses,” said Darla Auten, senior administrator of operations for Orange County Public Schools. “It was a long day and we worked from 5 a.m. on Sunday morning until 5 p.m. in the afternoon. It was an awesome feeling to make it a success.”
Auten said she was pleased with the effort and work that the bus drivers did. “The athletes are special needs students and we made sure they had everything they needed. The bus driver did an awesome job and I believe they enjoyed the experience,” Auten added.
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