Deputies, students buddy with athletes for special competition

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Spanish Lake Primary School students, from left, Dylan Jones, 10; Justin Richardson, 10; Andie Brown, 10; and Jacob Richardson, 9, pull in a tug-of-war contest against a U.S. Marshals team during the Ascension Parish Special Olympics time trials at Dutchtown High School.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Spanish Lake Primary School students, from left, Dylan Jones, 10; Justin Richardson, 10; Andie Brown, 10; and Jacob Richardson, 9, pull in a tug-of-war contest against a U.S. Marshals team during the Ascension Parish Special Olympics time trials at Dutchtown High School.

Deputies, students join with athletes

Jaran Vargas darted down the track Friday, a big smile across his face, as his mother cheered from the bleachers.

At the finish line, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brady Madere, Jaran’s cousin, greeted Jaran, a student at Central Primary School, with a big high five.

“Great, great job, Jaran,” Madere said. “We’re just so proud of you.”

Jaran was one of some 200 Ascension Parish students taking part in the annual Special Olympics time trials Friday at Dutchtown High School’s Griffin Field.

Jaran, who has Williams Syndrome, loves sports and looks forward to Special Olympics all year, said his mother, Vicki Vargas.

Vargas said her son was very disappointed when he was told the games were postponed on Feb. 13, “but he was really excited today when the weather was perfect and the games began.”

Inclement weather forced a postponement.

The time trials, which included races of varying distances, and throwing and jumping events, is part of the Louisiana Special Olympics program, said Jennifer Whittington, adaptive physical education teacher.

Whittington spent most of the morning-long program thumbing through paperwork and working with the dozens of volunteers at the event.

One of those volunteers, Keleigh Poland, 17, a student in the Allied Health program at Dutchtown High School, said the event inspired her to consider a new career.

“This day is amazing,” said Poland, one of 117 Allied Health students volunteering Friday. “It’s changed my view on things.”

While she was always interested in a job in the medical field, Poland said that working with children with disabilities “inspired me” to consider a job in occupational health “so I can work with these amazing children.”

“It’s good to see they’re having so much fun,” Poland said.

Each child was assigned a volunteer buddy to assist him throughout the time trials.

As the children arrived at the gate, the children met their buddies and started the competition.

Joanie Prejean, a teacher at St. Amant High School, sat at the front gate with six of her student athletes.

“We’ve had this on the calendar since the beginning of February and this is all they can talk about,” Prejean said.

Students who qualify will move on to the area games at the Louisiana School for the Deaf, Whittington said.

Volunteers from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office handed out sheriff’s badge stickers, cooked and helped out, she said.