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Powell Special Olympians earn medals, mettle

Powell Panther Special Olympian and Powell Middle School student Matthew Pool puts his best foot forward towards the end of the 200 meter race at the Area I Special Olympics Jan. 25 at Meadowlark Ski Resort. Pool won the bronze in the 200. Powell Panther Special Olympian and Powell Middle School student Matthew Pool puts his best foot forward towards the end of the 200 meter race at the Area I Special Olympics Jan. 25 at Meadowlark Ski Resort. Pool won the bronze in the 200. Tribune photos by Dante Geoffrey

Their faces said it all.

The second floor of the lodge at Meadowlark Ski Resort, just east of Ten Sleep in the Big Horn Mountains, was packed with tables, backpacks, food and people. Lots of people.

Most had just come in from the far side of the makeshift parking lot, where they were spectators, cheerleaders and athletes at the Area I Special Olympics games.

They knew.

But even those who just happened to be visiting Meadowlark for a day on the slopes, and happened to head upstairs for a late lunch, knew that whatever event taking place was a huge success. The signs reading, “Welcome, Special Olympians” should have given it away.

The Powell Panthers Special Olympics team arrived by bus at the resort next to Meadowlark Lake early morning on Jan. 25.

By 1 p.m., the games had come and gone, but the enthusiasm and support that had been displayed outside were taken into the lodge to be combined with an awards ceremony and, possibly the day’s most popular event — lunch.

Ten Powell Special Olympians received medals. Most were for individual events but one gold was awarded for adaptive physical education teacher and coach Chris Wolff’s favorite moment of the day.

“The highlight of the day was watching them compete in the 4x100 relay and up against the other schools and other teams, and finish as successfully as they did, was pretty neat,” Wolff said. “They took it to the competition on that one.”

The 4x100 meter relay race showcased almost every aspect of the athletes’ abilities. Randy Johnson, Richard Burbank, Shelby Saldana and Matthew Pool were organized, cooperative and above all — fast.

Johnson was the only Panther to take home two golds. In addition to the relay, Johnson won gold in the 400 meter race and a silver in the 200 meter race. Inside the lodge-turned-winner’s-circle, he stood in front of his teammates, holding up the silver and gold around his neck for all to see.

“It felt good. The running part was hard, though,” Johnson said, laughing.

Wolff said Johnson persevered through a long race that saw some competitors slow down and lose focus.

“He stuck with it and wound up winning the division he was in, which was kind of cool,” Wolff said.

Burbank, who won gold medals during the fall’s bowling competition, earned another in the relay and two silvers in the 100 and 200 meter races.

“He was able to keep his streak going of winning gold medals,” Wolff said.

Saldana won a silver in the 400 and 800 meter races, the latter of which was the Olympics’ longest race.

Chase Smith also won a silver in his division’s 800 race, as did Emily Morrison. Smith won bronze and Morrison finished in fourth place in the 400.

Pool, who clinched the 4x100 relay with his sprint in the final leg, earned a bronze for his effort in the 200. He did not medal in the long-distance 800 meter, but one of the day’s more touching scenes played out moments after Pool crossed the finish line, feeling sick and tired. Pool slouched to the ground, sitting in the compacted snow and waiting for something to drink. His father, David, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Powell, sat down with his despondent looking son. In just a few quick motions Matthew had climbed upon his dad and wrestled him to the ground. His dad, in turn, wrestled a smile out of Matthew.

Chase Nemitz won medals in two of the sprint events. He earned a bronze in the 50 and silver in the 100. When his name was called into the lodge’s PA system (a microphone into a small, mom-friendly guitar amp), Nemitz walked up to receive his medal with his hands pressed together in front of his face, unable to suppress his unbridled joy.

Cami Jo Conner, also a Powell Middle School student, won silvers in both the 50 and 100.

Kenly Moore returned to Powell with two bronzes, one for the 100 meter and one for the 200 meter race.

Bailey Smith finished fourth in the 25 meter race and was the runner-up in the 50. Smith, in an interview with the Tribune, pointed out that she did not fall once during Friday’s events, though she would have been OK if she had.

“I just pick myself back up again,” Smith said of when she falls.

Between and after races, the olympians donned new Powell Panther jackets given to the team by Johnson’s Oil and Water.

“I like the Orange with the Powell Panthers on the back,” Morrison said.

Conner and Pool both are students at Powell Middle School. The rest of the athletes are from Powell High School.

By 3 p.m. the Panthers had received the last of their medals and were giving each other the last of their high fives. Minutes later, they were back on the bus with just a few ounces of extra weight around their already fatigued-yet-accomplished bodies.

“It was a successful day and I thought the kids worked hard, and they definitely went home tired,” Wolff said. “That’s the highlight of the whole thing – (to) see their work pay off.”

The work resulted in the gleam of medals — medals that shined almost as bright as the faces they were under.

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