THUNDER BAY – Wednesday was not an ordinary school day for Shayla Javor.
The Grade 13 student at St. Ignatius High School was one of about 70 local secondary school athletes taking to the gym at the former Port Arthur Collegiate Institute for Special Olympics Ontario’s city high school floor hockey championship.
“I like floor hockey because it’s fun,” she said.
The city competition on Wednesday, which served as a qualification for Special Olympics Ontario’s provincial championships to be held in June, featured teams from Westgate, Hammarskjold, St. Patrick and La Verendrye along with St. Ignatius.
Theresa Chikoski, the transition teacher at St. Ignatius, said the event is highly anticipated.
“The students love Special Olympics. They look forward to it every year,” Chikoski said. “It’s fortunate we get to participate in so many events. It gives them a chance to meet new friends and other students within the community from different schools.”
Along with floor hockey, Special Olympics Ontario holds basketball, track and field, soccer and bocce competitions for the high school athletes throughout the year.
Yoli Figueroa, a legacy and outreach worker for Special Olympics Ontario, said floor hockey is always a main draw.
“It’s probably one of the most popular ones,” Figueroa said.
Those competitions are more than just sport for the athletes, Figueroa added.
“You’re giving them the ability to participate in a group and also get to meet new people,” Figueroa said. “They help each other. It doesn’t really matter what team they’re on, if somebody gets hurt they stop and help the other person. It’s an amazing feeling to see them build friendships.”
Seeing the joy and enthusiasm of the athletes competing is rewarding, she said.
“I see their faces, I see they’re happy and active. It just gives them a different perspective to be part of a team and part of a sport,” Figueroa said. “They’re coming out of their schools for an event specifically for them. I think they feel really special in the sense that we’re paying attention and they’re getting involved.”