As Alyssa Saggau kept a sharp lookout, about 20 special need students from Brick seemed to be having the time of their lives on some playground equipment above.
Saggau, 14, is a cheerleader at Brick Township High School, and was volunteering Wednesday at Camp Beadleston's annual Special Olympics celebration, a joint effort between the school district and Knights of Columbus Council 8160.
"I just love seeing the smiles on their faces," Saggau, who was tasked with monitoring the playground area, said. "It just makes them so happy to be here."
The annual competition, held this year at Herbertsville Elementary School, is one of the highlights of the 15-day-long camp, where special needs students from the elementary grades through high school can get a leg up on the next school year and have some fun in the process.
"I'm making new friends here, we all are," said Daniel Chadwick, one of the high school students in the program.
Camp Beadleston is named for former state Senator Alfred Beadleston (R-Monmouth) – a legislator who fought for funding for special education students – and incorporates academic lessons into a fun, group atmosphere for students, said Corine McNichols, one of the program's organizers.
Students work on academics for 45 minutes out of each hour, then break for 15 minutes, but each week also incorporates a day of fun, McNichols said.
Though the camp has been in existence for nearly 45 years, Special Olympics Day has been part of it for the last 27, and has become woven into the fabric of the program.
Knights of Columbus Council 8160, based at Epiphany Church in the Herbertsville section, has sponsored the Special Olympics event all along. Its members help organize the events and purchase shirts, hats, medals and food for more than 200 participants, said John Crosio, who chaired this year's event.
"The men who started it, some of them are gone, some of them have moved away, but we keep it up," said Crosio, explaining that Knights of Columbus members hold fundraisers and "shake the cans" outside local stores each spring to raise the thousands of dollars needed to keep the event alive.
"We're in front of Walmart, Pathmark, Shop Rite, and the people in town are very generous and enable us to do this," said Crosio. "It's what we're supposed to do."
The spirit of competition and teamwork could be seen in students lining up to shoot baskets and run races with Brick Township school district teachers who work in the program. There was also a pick-up softball game going on between some of the Knights of Columbus members and the students at the baseball diamond in the back of Herbertsville School's yard.
"I'm looking forward to getting my medal," said Kevin Schweikert, 9, who will be heading into the fourth grade in September.
The camp will continue over the next couple of weeks, and the Knights of Columbus will continue to provide some of the fun for campers. The council has donated a day of bowling for the students, as well as a pizza party complete with a DJ to round out another successful summer.