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By Steve Breazeale

With the crowd cheering her on and a large support group waiting at the finish line, Dana Hills High School senior Sarah Rodas couldn’t help but smile.

Monday marked the final time she would participate in the Capistrano Unified School District’s Special Olympics event at Dana Hills, and she was going to do the 50-yard dash for the first time using a walker rather than her wheelchair. Rodas walked down the home stretch of Dolphins Stadium to a backdrop of applause and celebrated with her family, teachers and friends when she crossed the mark.

One of Rodas’ biggest cheerleaders was Joel Tapper, her STEPS (Structured Teaching Educating Prepared Students) teacher. Rodas has been a student of Tapper’s since she was a freshman, and every year the Special Olympics event is a highlight of their calendar.

“At Dana Hills we have a really strong culture of inclusion and it’s an opportunity for the district to get together and let the kids have the best experience possible,” Tapper said. “To see that full circle and see (Rodas) maximize her potential, that’s all you want as a teacher.”

The day saw more than 200 middle and high school students come to Dana Hills for a full slate of activities.

Students participated in the 100-meter dash, relay races, shot put and the long jump. There was also a cheer clinic, tug-of-war, face painting and music.

The Dana Hills Best Buddies program ensured that every Special Olympics athlete was matched with a Dana Hills student.

Six schools from CUSD participated in the event, including Marco Forster Middle School.

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