- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

Two years ago, Monte Brockman was in a wheelchair and unable to feed himself.

Yesterday, the 7-year-old was showing off a gold medal-winning baseball swing in the 11th annual Special Olympics Challenge Day at the James E. Duckworth School in Beltsville.

The event, which attracted hundreds of family members, school staffers and volunteers, was created by Special Olympics International for people with disabilities so severe they cannot compete in the traditional Special Olympics.

The organization also established the Motor Activities Training Program, which focuses on training and participation rather than competition. Duckworth is one of the first schools in the country to participate in the program.

The school has specialized classes for students with autism, a therapy pool and takes a team approach to helping children.

Monte also participated in yesterday’s opening ceremonies by lighting a fake torch.

“He’s having a great time today,” said Monte’s mother, Carolyn Howell, of Laurel, who is a substitute teacher and assists in aquatic therapy at the school.

Miss Howell marveled at her son’s progress while watching him round the bases. He took his first independent step in October, she said.

“When Monte first came to Duckworth two years ago, he was still drinking from a bottle,” she recalled. “Now he can feed himself and drink from a straw. It’s unbelievable.”

Monte was one of 102 students from Duckworth, each with multiple or severe disabilities, who showcased their skills in such sports as baseball, basketball, football, golf, swimming and weightlifting.

Erin McLaughlin, 6, would not let a minor spill keep her from finishing her heat in the track relay race. She toughed out a scraped elbow to finish the race and beamed while accepting her medal.

“She had a great time,” her mother, Jackie McLaughlin, said after the race while Erin cheered her classmates. “We made a videotape of the first [Challenge Day] she participated in. She was playing tee-ball, and she watches it every day.”

The students were matched yesterday with peer coaches from such local schools as Beltsville Academic Center, Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist and John Nevins Andrews.

The Duckworth students and their partners trained together for eight weeks before the games, said Trinell Bowman, school principal.

“The children had a great time,” she said. “You could see it in their faces, both the [Duckworth students] and the trainers.”

Yannick Cumberbatch, a student at Beltsville Academic Center, was one of the volunteer trainers.

“It was fun, both the training and the race,” said Yannick,10, who helped 5-year-old Chigoze Ibe run in the relay.

Yannick, who was inspired to participate after his older sister did last year, said he was proud of Chigoze’s performance. “He did well.”

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