CHICO – Makylah Hill had just finished playing rugby and shooting baskets when she decided it was time to conquer the rock face.
“I’m ready for this,” she said as she walked over to that part of the Acker gym.
After getting a climbing harness fitted and strapped for reassurance, the 16-year-old from Corning High began to climb.
She was one of some 35 children and teens on Friday at Adaptive Physical Education Sports Day in Chico State.
“Our goal is to reach students with physical and sensory disabilities,” said Marci Pope, teacher in the university’s department of kinesiology and event organizer.
Sports Day introduces students to the sports played at the Paralympic Games and provides specially designed equipment to help students compete, she said.
In its 20th year, the event returned after a hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pope had considered postponing another year because attendance is expected to be lower than in previous years, but said feedback from schools in Butte, Yuba, Shasta and Tehama counties was encouraging.
“The teachers were saying ‘my kids would be devastated if we couldn’t go to sports day,” she said.
In a room next to the Acker Gymnasium, Hill wasn’t the only one excited to climb the rock face.
Maera McDonald, 11, reached the top of the inclined climbing wall, descended and climbed back to the top.
The Browns Valley Elementary student said it was not his first time on a rock face. She had climbed with her sister in the gym and also two years ago on Adaptive Sports Day.
“The incline wall was easy, but those two were tough,” she said, pointing to two more advanced climbing walls before joining up with friends and discussing the intricacies of climbing.
In Acker’s main gymnasium, students threw soccer balls, played sitting volleyball, threw baseball bats and threw balls into the net.
They also played wheelchair rugby, although most of the players were not in wheelchairs.
“They have different activities for the students that we don’t have,” said Melinda Robbins, a teacher at Corning High. “It shows them the different abilities they have that they might not have the chance to experience.”
It also shows them the differences other students might have, she said.
Anthony Krepp, 15, finished playing wheelchair rugby after witnessing a few touches and stood up, eager to see what the next sport was available.
“It felt good” to help his team in the rugby match, he said, even though his student volunteer assistant was a “traitor” for playing on the opposing team.
Each of the participants was assigned a student from Chico State, usually from the kinesiology department, to lend a helping hand and teach them the sport.
Krepp, a sophomore at Oroville High, had three people in tow who followed the excited teen to the next station.
Sports Day shows kids what’s possible, and AbilityFirst, a non-profit organization in Chico, seeks to continue helping students with disabilities participate in athletic competitions like their peers do.
“We teach wheelchair sports and Paralympic sports taught by coaches with disabilities,” said Eric Snedeker, director of AbilityFirst, who was at the event to “recruit” athletes.
The program also offers water skiing and wheelchair skateboarding, as well as specialized pedal bikes.
Water skiing is hosted by an internationally renowned Paralympic Games coach, he said.
Watching the wheelchair rugby match, AbilityFirst Coordinator Elissa “Mouse” Robinson applauded.
Two-time national wheelchair basketball champion at the University of Alabama, Robinson said children who join the program tend to stick with the program.
“The opportunities for adapted sports diminish as you get older,” she said.