Elementary track meet is for all
But times have changed. At the 82nd annual track meet, Kodie decided to compete in the Frisbee throw, the softball throw and the highest profile race of the day, the 50.
Kodie can't stand without help and can barely move his legs. The 11-year-old has cerebral palsy and other birth defects.
About 1,400 kids compete in the annual fourth- and fifth-grade event. Tuesday was for fifth graders' turn. The fourth-graders compete today.
Phy ed teachers said they work with all students, no matter what their ability, to help them join in the fun.
Kodie is a fan of the Cubs and the Bears and racecar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's thinking of becoming a sports announcer or a coach or a videogame designer.
He has a winning smile and can pout with the best of them.
"He's an average 11-year-old, that's for sure. He's got a lot of friends. He loves to play PlayStation," said his mother, Becky.
Kodie, who has trouble gripping a pen without help, managed a throw a Frisbee about 2 feet Tuesday.
"Good job, Kodie," said a Lincoln School classmate. But Kodie looked dejected as he drove his wheelchair back to the grandstand.
One of his teachers, Lisa Jones, tried to cheer him up: "You ready for the hurdles, Kodie?"
Kodie can take a joke, Jones said. "He likes to dish it out, too."
They give ribbons to the top six finishers for each event. That's the top six in each of five classes, based on age, height and weight.
Kodie didn't finish high enough for a ribbon when he ran the 50 in fourth grade, but he deserved one, so he got one anyway, said his phy ed teacher, Brenda Wenzel.
"You have to take into consideration his disability," just like a kid in the classroom who has a learning disability, who is graded on progress from his own starting point, Wenzel said.
"The whole point of the track meet is to get here and have fun and be encouraging," Wenzel said. "So the more ribbons we give out, the better."
Most kids seem to focus on winning, though. Even some second-place winners had disappointment on their faces.
"The track meet includes everyone, and here is a student who puts out his best effort, is cheered on by everybody, and he's a little boy who doesn't give up," Wenzel said with admiration in her voice.
"Not many would pick the 50-yard-dash," Wenzel continued.
"It's about getting in there and participating and the sportsmanship—how you act whether you win or lose," Wenzel said.
Last year, Kodie practiced in his walker so much that he wore out the toe in his shoe, his mother said.
As the 50 approached, Kodie headed for the starting line.
"Do your best, and I won't give you any homework tonight," Jones called to him.
"I'm not going to fall for that," Kodie said with a smile.
Kodie's walker is a four-wheeled device with straps that hold up his legs and a wide collar that circles his chest, holding him up by the armpits.
"Come on, buddy! Get 'er goin' Earnhardt Jr. style," his father, Korie, called out.
The starting pistol fired, and the rest of the field was halfway down the track before Kodie had taken a few steps. His longtime aide, Deb Laskowski, stood behind him and gave an occasional push.
As Kodie crossed in front of the grandstands, the first to see him were the kids from Monroe School. They cheered, some of them rising from their seats.
The race was over for all the other runners, but the cheers for Kodie continued as he passed in front of his classmates and in front of the Van Buren School kids before he reached the finish line.
He had done it. Again.
Earlier, after the Frisbee throw, he was asked whether he'd rather come in last or not be here at all.
He'd rather be here, he said.