Today, the six students, along with their teacher, three aides and nurse played hooky to participate in the Northern California Special Olympics at Burlingame High School.
The Special Olympics has always been a highlight of the school year for Alex Ruth's kids, where disabled children from around the county get to compete in races, jumps, and softball throws.
Nowhere else can you easily confuse a long jump participant with a sprinter. It's a track meet where finish lines don't necessarily mean the end of the race, as teachers often chase after kids almost into the parking lot and beyond.
It is a chance for beleaguered families around the Peninsula to gather and share their stories of the year. We have gathered in humble acceptance of what our children are, and what they aren't. Many look anxiously around to make sure that friends from years past are still there. Bonds forged in hospitals and doctor's offices rekindle amid the mayhem.
But this year, it wasn't just Room 25 that was empty. Joining them for the first year were their friends in Mrs. Murphy's second-grade class who also made the trek north to cheer on their buddies.
What could have been an awkward experience turned into a festival of fun.
The little "helpers" assisted the kids in many ways — they foot wedged a couple of the softball throws, they raced alongside the sprinters, providing moving targets for the kids to follow.
Others hopped like frogs to demonstrate proper technique for the long jumpers. But mostly, they screamed their hearts out for our special kids and always had a sturdy hand to offer when an overeager jumper toppled to the turf.
Mrs. Murphy's class learned a lesson not easily taught in the classroom. They experienced the simple truth that even "different" kids love the thrill of the race, even if they are not exactly sure which one they are in.
They learned that a race not run is worse than losing, and that some times just showing up is half the battle. They saw how far a little love and support goes. That a victory is measured by the smile on the face, not the medal around the neck.
By the end of the day, you couldn't really tell the difference between Mr. Ruth's or Mrs. Murphy's kids. They all meandered back to the cars, joined by the laughter of the day and memories of the events. What started off as two groups melded into one tired but elated team of winners.
So the classes were empty, but the lessons were still learned. Training has begun again for next year.