2007-12-19 / Front Page

Many pitch in to make ball for athletes special

Fourth annual Special Olympics Winter Ball a hit
BY JAMIE ROMM Staff Writer

Four years ago a group of parents of Special Olympics athletes wanted to give the youths a yearly event to bring them together and just have fun.

Clockwise from top: Hazlet Rockets Special Olympics athletes Melissa Connolly and Michael McGrath take a spin on the dance floor during the Winter Ball. Thomas Orsini presents Raritan High School Principal Colleen Rafter with a gift as a thank you for her support of the team. Athletes Kevin Daley (center) and Allen Mui (far right) have fun with their friends. Clockwise from top: Hazlet Rockets Special Olympics athletes Melissa Connolly and Michael McGrath take a spin on the dance floor during the Winter Ball. Thomas Orsini presents Raritan High School Principal Colleen Rafter with a gift as a thank you for her support of the team. Athletes Kevin Daley (center) and Allen Mui (far right) have fun with their friends. On Dec. 1, the Hazlet Rocket Special Olympic Parents Group held its fourth annual Special Olympic Winter Ball for the athletes from Monmouth and Ocean counties at Raritan High School.

"The idea came out of us parents wanting to give these kids fun activities to do throughout the year," parent Andy Bace said. "The Winter Ball is something these kids look forward to every year."

Dorann O'Brien, chairwoman of the parents group, and her husband Bill along with Andy and Joan Bace, Diane and Tony Recco, Marilyn and Bill Schamber, Terri Boyle, Amy and William Mui and Judi Menendez ran the first dance in April of 2004. The event drew about 40 athletes.

This year's dance was attended by 110 Special Olympics athletes, including Michael McGrath, a silver medal winner in the 1,500 meters and a bronze in the team event, the 4x400, at Shanghai, China, in the Special Olympics World Games, which took place Oct. 2-11.

More than 250 people attended the ball including volunteers and parents.

"It's getting hard to count the number of people at these things," Andy Bace said. "We have so many great people here."

The event is free to the athletes and is supported by donations solicited by the parents' group.

A major sponsor this year was the Hazlet Rotary Club, which ran a pancake breakfast that provided the funds for the food.

The dance is semiformal with many of the athletes wearing shirts and ties.

A DJ played music for everyone to dance to, and each athlete received a gift.

A gift bag was presented to Raritan High School Principal Colleen Rafter for her year-round support of the program. Athletes Thomas Orsini and Allen Mui made the presentation.

Raritan High School has allowed the school to be used for the ball and Bace said the parents' group greatly appreciates the school's help.

"It is so great that the school has opened up and helped us out so much," he said. "The ball always is a great occasion in the gym with the music and fun that is had."

Bace said that it's the students of Raritan High School who come in to help serve food and make the party run smoothly that makes all of the difference.

"All of these kids come and help, and it's amazing what they do," Bace said. "They take time out of their schedules to help for this event, and it's great."

Hazlet Special Olympic Coach Mary Beth Stansfield attributes the success to the parents.

"Monmouth and Ocean County Special Olympic athletes and coaches would like to thank the Hazlet Special Olympic Parents Group for giving us a night to remember," Stansfield said in a press release.

Bace said planning for next year's Winter Ball has already begun.

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