Fort Mill Times

Classroom Confessions - March 26, 2008

Julie Warner is the district's reigning Teacher of the Year who now has a districtwide position in special education. You can e-mail her at
Julie Warner is the district's reigning Teacher of the Year who now has a districtwide position in special education. You can e-mail her at

In the spring of each year, I can be assured of one day filled with overwhelm-ing magic. On a particular Friday in April, students, teachers, families, and volunteers meet at Cherry Park in Rock Hill for the annual Special Olympic Games.

Having attended these games for many years, I can recall a number of stories filled with triumph and defeat.

One of my favorite memories is about a young lady in my class who looked forward to the Special Olympic Games as much as she looked forward to Christmas.

Several weeks before the games, our class would practice in the bus parking lot beside the school to perfect our skills in throwing softballs, long-jumping, wheelchair racing, and running

Rhonda had signed up to participate in the 100 meter dash as she had done for the past three years.

At each practice, Rhonda concentrated on staying in her lane and running toward the finish line. When the day of the games finally arrived, Rhonda proudly admitted that this year, she was "ready to win."

I remember arriving at the park on that long-anticipated day. Buses from all over York County hauled coolers, banners, volunteers, and special athletes for the big event. At 11 a.m., we made our way to the Ladies 100 meter dash event.

Rhonda, proudly wearing her Fort Mill T-shirt, eagerly stepped up to the starting line and glanced my way with her right thumb stuck up in the air.

My heart pounded with the hope that this year, Rhonda would come in first place.

The gun fired and Rhonda's short legs thundered toward the finish line. Screaming and cheering, I ran to give her a big hug.

"You did it, Rhonda! You came in first place! You get to wear the blue ribbon!"

Rhonda looked at me. Quickly, her beaming smile turned.

"But, I don't want blue," she replied as tears welled up in her eyes.

"But winners get a blue ribbon, Rhonda!" I tried to explain.

She shook her head silently.

"I want a red ribbon...I like red better."

At that moment, on that beautiful cherry-blossomed-filled day in April, a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome taught me an important lesson.

I realized that sometimes we get caught up in wanting to have visible signs of success: a nice car, a big house, a successful career, or a blue ribbon.

We look for happiness through affirmation from others instead of looking inward at what makes us truly happy.

Often, it is the simple pleasures in life that can bring the most happiness.

With pride, Rhonda carried her red ribbon in her hand and smiled each time she looked at it...she was a true winner!