They volunteered, they cheered, they coached.
They were Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District teachers and students, they were officials from the Special Olympics and New Jersey State Troopers, they were proud moms and dads and they were passionate coaches.
They all assembled at John Basilone Memorial Field in Bridgewater on Saturday, May 13.
The skies were cloudy but the attitudes were bright for all of these people gathered there at a site named after a legendary World War II hero.
They were all in good spirits while their heroes competed in various events during the Special Olympics New Jersey Area 10–Somerset County Track and Field Games.
An estimated 150 athletes participated in the annual games, including a total of 32 students from the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.
This local hearty bunch numbered 18 from Bridgewater-Raritan High School, seven from Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, five from Eisenhower Intermediate School and two from Crim Primary School.
Annie Higgins, a Teacher of Special Education and Multiple Disabilities at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, was in her accustomed role of being there to guide and inspire the athletes.
As well as being the Advisor to the Class of 2026 and Co-Advisor of The Prowler, the high school student newspaper, Ms. Higgins is the coach of the first Unified Track and Field Team at the high school.
Her priceless commitment wears off on her students—both the athletes competing and others who were there to help.
“Today is a celebration and a positive day, a homecoming of sorts since everyone is assembled here,” Ms. Higgins said. “How cool is it with our student volunteers and PE Partners (Unified Track and Field teammates). We have about 50 student volunteers.”
Adam Pyle is another teacher at the high school—he is a staff member of the Physical Education Department—who devoted his time to being at Basilone Field, which is a second home to him.
He is also the highly successful girls’ track and field coach in the spring. Some of his athletes joined him on this day as members of those good-hearted student volunteers.
“We got some of our track team here. This is a keystone for our program,” Coach Pyle said. “ It is good for our girls to take a leadership role.”
One of his athletes, junior Maya Schwartz, is the team’s accomplished sprinter in the 100 and 200 races. But on this day, she was thrilled to watch other athletes shine on the track.
“I love how this gives other kids an opportunity that I have in track,” Maya revealed. “ I am happy to see them out here and happy to see how proud they are of themselves.”
Maya was asked if it was worth giving up her Saturday morning?
“Absolutely,” she quickly answered.
Another volunteer was Andrew Kussmaul, who is an 8th grade student at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School. But you would guess that he is older due to the wisdom that he shared..
“I am here because I want to help people out. These people here are no lesser than all of us,” Andrew said while his mother, Michele Kussmaul, who is a high school Physical Education Teacher, stood by proudly.
As usual, the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association (BREA) was there to pitch in and support a worthy cause.
The tireless BREA President, Laura Kress, and another energetic volunteer, Lori Dini, the BREA Philanthropic Chairperson, were spending their Saturday handing out bottles of water and oranges and clementines on what was a warm day in Somerset County.
“We are so glad to be here and helping out,” said Ms. Kress, who is a teacher at Middle School along with Ms. Dini. “ We want to support our school district and all of the athletes.”
After each event, the athletes received medals from stands that were located on both the main field and the adjacent Turf 2 Field at Basilone.
The medal presenters were New Jersey State Troopers who gladly gave out medals rather than tickets.
“I love it,” said Trooper David Mann, who reported that there were about 15 State Troopers spread throughout Basilone who were presenting medals. “It is great seeing the athletes’ smiles and to see that they enjoy what they are doing.”
The New Jersey State Troopers were also visible in the air when a New Jersey State Police helicopter flew over Basilone Field when the games were launched with the athletes’ ceremonial parade.
The person who coordinated this fulfilling event was Stephanie Johnson, who is the Area 10 Director-Somerset County. She put down her megaphone to deliver her thanks to everyone—but herself despite the endless hours that she has devoted to produce these games.
“A tremendous thanks to all of the volunteers and to Bridgewater-Raritan,” said Ms. Johnson, who is in her second year as the Director and has served 10 years with the Special Olympics.
“It is great to see so many happy faces. This is the reason why we are here and to see all of these athletes on the medal stand.”
“These athletes make us do what we do.”
So what did these athletes have to say?
“I am happy and this is a lot of fun,” said Nicholas Lloyd who is a student at Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
He should be happy.
He was a regular visitor to the medal stand due to his feats in the throwing events as well as running.
Does he look forward to these games each year?
“Yep, I sure do.”
Gina and Frank Loschiavo were all smiles when they congratulated their daughter, Carmela, a junior at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, after her efforts.
This is awesome,” Mr. Loschiavo said.
He was more than willing to focus on the people who all make this happen..
“The volunteers are empowering and inspiring. They give up their Saturday to be here,” Mr. Loschiavo declared. “ You have to be so proud of the kids who are here doing the volunteer work. “
He went on with glowing compliments, especially to people such as Ms. Higgins and other school staff members
“They are all rock stars.”
His wife, Gina, was handling the important role of taking the ice cream order and asking Carmela what flavor she desired once they left and headed for the post-game celebration.
“Chocolate,” Carmela soundly said.
The good-feeling that was shared throughout Basilone Field was absorbing, according to Mr. Loschiavo.
“You always hear about bad things but you don’t see bad things here. Today is more good than evil.”
Coach Pyle summed up the general attitude on this day.
“Good people like to help good people.”