Inclusive track and field day

Arrowhead Youth Games event returns to UMD.

students outside playing wheelchair basketball

UMD was buzzing with activity on May 5 as a longstanding event returned to campus, bringing in more than 300 kids from 22 area schools for an exceptional field day experience that included archery, dance, bowling, and various other adaptive activities.

The annual Arrowhead Youth Games (AYG) was held in person for the first time since 2019. The event was organized by Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute–Northland and hosted by UMD. Its goal is to give students with disabilities a chance to participate in an array of adapted sports and recreational opportunities.

Instructor and student on a green field playing with a large orange ball

This collaboration with regional school districts began in 1995 with the intention of bringing kids with physical and other developmental disabilities together to experience the excitement of a competitive track and field event. It also gives area teachers and volunteers, some of who are UMD students, an opportunity for hands-on learning about Developmental Adapted Physical Education (DAPE). 

Assistant Professor Daehyoung Lee was hired to help start a DAPE minor at UMD in 2020. Though it’s federally mandated that schools offer DAPE for students with disabilities, there’s a shortage of teachers trained to provide it. 

Almost a quarter of the volunteers at AYG this year were from UMD, a significant increase compared to previous years. Lee credits DAPE and Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) students with volunteering and helping to make the event “exceptionally successful” by leading many of the activity stations.

Two students smiling at activity station with pool noodle games

“I was fortunate enough to be part of this impactful community event as an organizing committee member,” Lee said. “What’s special about the AYG is that it gives a great service-learning opportunity to both children with disabilities and future professionals. The event provided the children with extraordinary movement experiences while our students had an opportunity to apply their teaching and class management skills in real-world situations. I am certain that our group will continue to be a pillar of this community tradition."

In 2020, AYG was canceled due to COVID-19. Last year, UMD students and faculty worked to make a virtual event possible by creating 31 video demonstrations that featured adapted activities. 

Being able to hold the event in person again this year was significant for both participants and volunteers. “I had never volunteered at the AYG before due to COVID-19, but it is seriously something so important and special. It's not the same online compared to in person,” said Daisy Miller, a student in the DAPE minor program. “This is something everyone should experience—it was so powerful. Seeing all the big smiles and hearing the laughter, it's priceless.”

Miller said she appreciated the “positive and inclusive atmosphere” of the event. I learned how much of a difference this is making in kids' lives.”

Volunteering was also impactful for Jackson Massie, another student participant who said he “had a blast” at the event interacting with the students. “Through this experience, I got to know more about what my future career will look like as a physical educator/adapted physical educator,” he said. “It reminded me why I chose to further my education in this field.”

Arrowhead Youth Games group picture of students and faculty in front of bulldog mural