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Special Survivor Games at Indian Prairie School District 204

Unique Event Makes It Extra Special

When fifth grader, Marissa Kucharski brought Special Survivor Games to Indian Prairie School District 204 back in 2012, she was embarking on new territory as this was an innovative idea – not only to District 204 – but to the area and perhaps even the State or country.

Nine years later, it is quite possibly still the only event of its kind nationwide.

Marissa, now 19 years old, feels proud to leave a legacy behind at her Alma mater as she currently attends Illinois State University.

“When I look back at all my accomplishments throughout my academic and athletic years as a student in District 204, I am so humbled by the tradition of Special Survivor Games,” Marissa shares.  “It was a simple idea that has brought together so many people of all ages, abilities, and personalities into a fun-filled afternoon of old-fashion relay-style games.”

Where it began….

Since 2008, Marissa’s mom had run Survivor Games each summer in her backyard for neighborhood and school friends.  The event began with 21 kids and grew to 75 kids by the summer of 2015.  Kids ranging in age from 5-15 came to the yard to play a series of relay style games/races, all having the time of their life competing against each other while carrying an egg on a spoon (The Original Special Survivor Games)

Marissa has a very special friend, Sean Chapple that she met in kindergarten and had formed a very special relationship over the years – even attending his Homecoming with him at Turning Pointe in Naperville the past two years.   Sean is non-verbal and has severe autism.

Marissa was frustrated each summer when it came time for the annual backyard Survivor Games because Sean could not participate due the extreme heat of the August summers as he is not able to normally regulate his body temperature.  With the support of District 204 teachers and administration, Marissa created Special Survivor Games (Special Survivor Games 2019)

for children with special needs in Indian Prairie District 204 because she wanted to ensure that regardless of ability, Sean, along with any other child with special needs, could also enjoy Survivor Games (backyard relay-style games) – as much as she and her friends did in her backyard.

The only way to make this possible was to use a temperature regulated gym at her local elementary school (Peterson Elementary) that also offered a level surface for wheelchairs.  The event was well received by the multi-needs teachers of the district because nothing like this had ever existed for children with special needs that are mainstreamed at their schools.  Most events are geared toward the entire school which often times limits the special needs children’s participation due to noise levels, field activities, or have a specific sport focus.

Special Survivor Games

Since founding the event in 2012, Marissa has continued to take on new tasks each year; coordinating all the pre-event details, handling registration, marketing the event, emceeing the event, working directly as a peer buddy, cheering on the kids and thanking the crowd.  The event draws about 35 participants, 70 peer buddies, 30 multi-needs teacher volunteers, and over 100 spectators.

Marissa took an idea to ensure all children were included in fun events, regardless of ability and brought it to fruition to a district-wide event.  She is grateful to the Peterson Elementary PTA and Principal for their continued support and sponsoring the event.

Special Survivor Games is a fun event where there are no special needs or special circumstances or differences amongst the students; where peer buddies and special needs students work together as one, with no boundaries, borders or differences. 

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