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Student athletes "boogie down" Jan. 29, 2002 at disco night after last year's winter games for special educations students in Europe. Called the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Winter Challenge this year, the event offers students with special education needs an opportunity to practice social skills in the real world, school officials said.
Student athletes "boogie down" Jan. 29, 2002 at disco night after last year's winter games for special educations students in Europe. Called the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Winter Challenge this year, the event offers students with special education needs an opportunity to practice social skills in the real world, school officials said. (Courtesy of DODDS Europe)

Special education athletes from around Europe are gathering in the German Alps this week for winter sports and fun.

The Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Europe hosts the 2003 Winter Challenge for the 22nd time, said Maureen Crouse, one of the school department’s coordinators.

The school department hosts the challenge at the Hinterbrand Lodge in Berchtesgaden, Germany. DODDS maintains the lodge to hold outdoor educational programs for all students, Crouse said.

The event was formerly called the Special Winter Olympics. School officials changed the name to get away from some of the formal rules and qualification guidelines involved with Special Olympics, Crouse said.

For instance, the athletes do not have to practice for a certain event all year before participating in that event at the challenge, Crouse said.

“We are concentrating on the fun aspects,” she said.

About 38 athletes with moderate to severe educational needs from around the five DODDS school districts in Europe are registered to participate this year, said Frank Huber, the house manager for the Hinterbrand Lodge. The challenge runs until Thursday.

Fourteen special student athletes from local German schools also are competing, Huber said Monday.

The athletes compete in cross-country skiing, sledding, snow-shoeing and a balloon relay race competition. “I really think the kids enjoy the (inner) tubing and sledding,” Huber said.

With more than 3 feet of snow on the ground and more falling daily, the athletes are in for a good time, Huber said.

This event is the only time some of the students from southern European countries will see snow all year, Huber said.

“You ought to see the faces of the children when they see snow,” he said. “They love it!”

The students do more than sporting events. Monday night is a treasure hunt and game night. On Tuesday, the students choose between horse carriage rides and swimming at an indoor pool. Tuesday night, students from a local school for asthmatics will perform a children’s circus, Huber said.

After sporting events Wednesday, students select swimming or visiting the Berchtesgaden salt mine.

On Wednesday night, event officials hold the awards ceremony, a banquet and then disco dancing, Huber said.

The German athletes go through the sporting challenges as a group, but then everyone gets together for the dance.

Language is no barrier, Huber said.

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