Special Olympians run, jump, soar

Organizer leaving Escalante Middle School, but vows games will continue


Rita May Hecker, a sophomore at Durango High School, crosses the finish line at the Escalante Middle School track after running a 50-meter dash. Athletes from around the region participated in what has become known as the “Bowker Games” in honor Billy Bowker, the organizer of The Special Track and Field Event. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Rita May Hecker, a sophomore at Durango High School, crosses the finish line at the Escalante Middle School track after running a 50-meter dash. Athletes from around the region participated in what has become known as the “Bowker Games” in honor Billy Bowker, the organizer of The Special Track and Field Event.

The Special Track and Field Event held Wednesday at Escalante Middle School is unofficially dubbed “The Bowker Games” after the founder of the local Special Olympic meets, Billy Bowker.

Bowker, a physical-education instructor for the last 31 years at Escalante, is retiring from teaching this year, but he plans to be a fixture organizing events like Wednesday’s well into the future.

“This has been the fifth year that we’ve done this, and it gets bigger and bigger every year,” he said amid Wednesday’s fun and games.

People from all around Southwest Colorado came to Escalante to support, watch or play. Groups from Pagosa Springs, Cortez, Bayfield, Ignacio, Silverton and Dolores enjoyed the camaraderie, laughs and athletics as many students, parents and teachers reflected on Bowker’s long and influential three decades at Escalante.

“Coach Bowker is my biggest inspiration as an educator,” said Jason Thomas, a special education teacher at Escalante. “He is able to find a strength in every single kid, no matter what.”

The history of The Special Track and Field Event all started with Bowker.

“Six years ago, the Special Olympics didn’t happen here, so I started my own thing,” Bowker said. “Originally, it was called ‘the county relays.’ Now everyone calls it the ‘Bowker games.’”

More than 100 participants had the chance to join in several events, including the 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 400 meters, high jump, long jump and softball throw.

“Everyone gets a medal around their neck. Some kids will have six or seven; some get more, and others grab a couple extra,” Bowker said. “They are really happy to have them.”

The entire Escalante student body and faculty came out during the opening ceremony to cheer.

“They’re coming down the track to the finish line with their arms up, and they are so happy and thrilled that people are watching them,” Bowker said. “It is their chance to shine; it is their day.”

Though retiring as an educator, Bowker will continue his commitment to providing chances for disabled children.

“This will not stop. I will organize this next year and the following year and who knows how long,” Bowker said. “It’s getting too big, and it’s so great for these kids.”

pblank@durangoherald.com

Isaac Balderrama, a fourth-grader at Riverview Elementary School, displays his medal for winning the 50-meter dash Wednesday at the Escalante Middle School. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Isaac Balderrama, a fourth-grader at Riverview Elementary School, displays his medal for winning the 50-meter dash Wednesday at the Escalante Middle School.

Cole Perez, a seventh-grader at Escalante Middle School, competes in a softball toss with his helper Misty Melody, an eighth-grader at Escalante on Wednesday afternoon. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Cole Perez, a seventh-grader at Escalante Middle School, competes in a softball toss with his helper Misty Melody, an eighth-grader at Escalante on Wednesday afternoon.

Cole Perez, a seventh-grader at Escalante Middle School, celebrates his performance during a softball toss with his helper Misty Melody, an eighth-grader at Escalante. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Cole Perez, a seventh-grader at Escalante Middle School, celebrates his performance during a softball toss with his helper Misty Melody, an eighth-grader at Escalante.

Cole Martens of Durango High School is congratulated by Sonia Miera, left, a special-needs instruction specialist at the school, and Morgan Jaworsky after running a 50-meter dash. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Cole Martens of Durango High School is congratulated by Sonia Miera, left, a special-needs instruction specialist at the school, and Morgan Jaworsky after running a 50-meter dash.

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