Special Olympics Torch Lighting Ceremony unites Murrysville community

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Jamie Piraino witnessed a magical moment at PNC Park Monday morning that had little to do with baseball.

Instead, it reaffirmed the superintendent's decision to dedicate his life to public education as he watched students enrolled in life-skills classes run the bases with their teachers.

“It was an opportunity for me to remember why I got into education,” Piraino said. “I've participated in many Special Olympics events, but that will always be one of my fondest memories.”

Piraino accompanied teachers and students enrolled in the district's life-skills program to PNC Park Monday for the Special Olympics Torch Lighting Ceremony. The ceremony kicked off a four-day, 150-mile run by local police officers to carry the torch to State College.

Local police departments – including Murrysville, Monroeville and state police – participate in the run each year. But this year, Murrysville police had some company when officers took to Route 22 on Tuesday.

Several members of the Franklin Regional track team ran with three Murrysville officers from the Monroeville Speedway to Franklin Regional High School, where the torch was passed to the state police. “This year has extra meaning to us as we are joined by athletes from the Franklin Regional School District, all running together to support Special Olympians with disabilities,” Murrysville Police Chief Tom Seefeld said. “It's good to see the community come together for a great cause.”

Franklin Regional student Janicesa Rockwell, a Special Olympics athlete, addressed the officers and other students at the start of the torch run on Monday. Piraino beams with pride when he talks about Rockwell's speech, which lauds how the Special Olympics program has had a positive impact on her life.

“Janicesa was ecstatic to be a young person, having the opportunity to speak to a crowd at PNC Park,” Piraino said. “It was heartfelt. It was so well-done.”

A medalist in bocce, swimming, bowling and track, Rockwell told the crowd the experience has brought her out of her shell and made her proud of herself.

Rockwell and Piraino – a former Special Olympics teen volunteer – then carried the torch from home plate to first base, as it made its way around the plates before officers began their run.

The experience lit up a group of students who aren't always the most expressive, he said.

“They were giddy,” Piraino said. “A lot of times, our students don't always express their emotions in words. But the excitement, the laughs, the conversations, the smiles on their faces – that said it all, what words didn't have to say.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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