Local Olympian Erin Hamlin has a message for the youngest students of Westmoreland School who missed their chance to participate in the school’s annual end-of-year Olympic Games.
“I know you might be bummed,” Hamlin says, “I want to say job well done on getting through a tough school year. Really to get through those challenges is impressive. I hope you were able to stay positive.”
“I know you guys are a bit disappointed, but next year is going to be that much better.” Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, a runner and hurdler who won a Bronze medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, added.
Kaitlin Sandeno urged students to “stay fit this summer, stay active, [and] stay motivated.”
Sandeno won a gold medal and set a world record in swimming at the 2004 Summer Olympics. She added that she wished the kids “ all the positivity [and to] take good care, make good decisions, and never ever give up.”
Nastia Liukin, who has won five Olympic medals and several World Championships in gymnastics, assured the “little bulldogs” that she is as sad as they are that the school Olympics aren’t happening this year.
“But guess what,” she said. “They’re still going to happen next summer!”
“Hi, little Bulldogs, I’m sending you a special message!” Pandelela Rinong, the first Malaysian woman to win an Olympic medal called out. “Stay active and build those little muscles this summer!”
Gathering all these Olympic athletes onto one video is the latest production by Westmoreland Upper Elementary’s Physical Education teacher, Greg Williams, and Elementary Computer/Media Aide Patrick Cardillo.
“The current and former Olympians were asked to encourage the kids to stay active this summer and reassure them that the Olympics will be back next year,” Williams said. “I came up with the idea for the video because this year’s Olympic Day celebration was canceled, and I wanted them to look forward to something next year!”
The video opens with retired Elementary Physical Education teacher Gail VanSlyke explaining how the roots of the School Olympics day go back to the 1970s when she began the tradition with her colleague, Coach Don McLellan. He was the Boys Physical Education teacher for many years.
“So, it’s been going on for forty years!” VanSlyke says.
Williams explained how it began with a fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade track meet. It was so successful that, then principal, DeForest Hill, asked them to include all of the Kindergarten through sixth-grade students and to make it a schoolwide celebration.
Connie Sadlowski Hosler remembers participating in one of the earliest Westmoreland Olympics when she was an elementary school student in the late 1970s.
“The games were done with your class,” she said. “I remember a hula hoop contest. Our class brought lunch to eat outside that day. It was like a class picnic. It was fun.”
She noted how it has evolved over the years.
The video celebrates that evolution with pictures and songs.
While the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams plays, photos appear on the screen of Olympic parades from the past forty years. Teachers lead their classes around the track behind banners that say things like, “Mrs. Wolfanger’s Wolverines,” “Going Buggy With Mrs. Beck,” “Miss Baron’s All Start,” “Mrs. Kanclerz’s Class Clowns,” and “Mrs. Brindisi’s Bright Bunch.”
Bob Molisani, who was the Westmoreland Elementary Physical Education teacher from 1993 to 2000, then appears on the video to give the kids a pep talk, “stay active, stay strong. Go Bulldogs!” This leads into a segment showing kids from various generations holding up colored ribbons and wearing T-shirts with sayings like, “ LaLonde’s Lightning” and “Haggerty’s Heroes.”
There are plenty of pictures of families cheering the little athletes as they compete.
In recent years the celebration has expanded into a day-long event with family picnics, activities in the Elementary and Upper Elementary gymnasiums, and bounce houses.
“I know you’re disappointed,” Molisano said in his segment. “But Olympic Day will be back next year.”
“One thing that I’ve learned from sports is that you have to be patient,” legendary Olympic skater Brian Boitano says in the video. “It will help you be a success in all parts of your life. So be patient, stay home, but be active.”
“Mr. Williams has worked exceptionally hard throughout the entire shutdown to keep the kids actively engaged and to stress the importance of staying active,” says Superintendent Rocco Migliori. “This video did all that plus helped them to understand better some of the rich traditions we have here at Westmoreland.”
Williams agrees that the video was meant as a tribute to an iconic annual town event.
“For forty years, this has been a part of our history.” He said.
Both Williams and Patrick Cardillo, who produced the video with him, are alumni of Westmoreland Central School as well as faculty members. Migliori thinks that they understand the importance of the tradition and that that’s why Williams encourages his students to take an interest in that heritage.
“Mr. Cardillo, also an alumnus, is unbelievably talented,” Migliori says. “He works hard at putting together these videos and doing all the editing. He takes a great deal of pride in his work and will do anything to benefit the kids of our district.”
The video is accessible on the school district’s website (WestmorelandSchool.org.) Under the heading “Bulldog Community,” where there is a drop-down menu where visitors can select “videos.”
Mr. Williams and Mr. Cardillo did a masterful job at putting this together,” Migliori says, encouraging the community to go check it out for themselves: https://www.westmorelandschool.org/
Ron Klopfanstein welcomes your questions, comments, and story idea. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein.