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Annual games plant seed for activity

His smile beaming from having just scaled 15 feet of a climbing wall for the first time in his life, Proctor sixth-grader Dawson McLean was asked if he was as fearless as he looked.

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Zach Minor of Duluth, who attends Ordean East School, launches a big, soft ball in a game designed to teach ball skills like coordination. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com
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His smile beaming from having just scaled 15 feet of a climbing wall for the first time in his life, Proctor sixth-grader Dawson McLean was asked if he was as fearless as he looked.

"Maybe," said the coy middle-schooler, who employed his underdeveloped right hand to help haul his slight frame up the rock face. "That was fun."

Dawson was one of more than 320 children from two dozen area middle and elementary schools taking part Thursday in the Arrowhead Youth Games at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"He's a great kid," said his teacher, Danielle Wines, who credited the annual, daylong games with spurring her to restart Proctor's dormant Special Olympics program four years ago.

"The kids look forward to this every year," she said. "Older kids start telling the younger kids. It's an awesome day."

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Areas in and around the UMD field house featured 16 stations with a wide variety of activities - big ball volleyball, archery, rhythmic gymnastics, obstacle courses, adaptive cycling and more.

The event dates back to the 1980s, said Eric Larson, program manager for Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute-Northland, which sponsors the event along with UMD.

"It started as a track-and-field event and it's evolved over the years," he said.

Courage Kenny offers programs year-round to children and adults with physical disabilities, including kayaking, archery, skiing, cycling and more. The goal, he said, is to reduce barriers to participation through the use of adaptive formats. At the Arrowhead Youth Games, some of those adaptations were on display: three-wheel cycles with hand pedals, bow stands for archers, and stacking larger buckets instead of traditional cup-stacking.

The Arrowhead Youth Games include children from kindergarten through eighth grade - some who have physical disabilities, and some who have cognitive disabilities. The five hours of activity can serve to plant a seed for children by helping to reveal their abilities.

"Studies show that active children translate to active adults," said Jim Knapp, a faculty member in UMD's Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

It helps that people like UMD junior Jon Dryke were around. He was among scores of student volunteers, including education majors and student-athletes.

"I just like seeing people active," said Dryke, a tall, blonde-bearded lacrosse player from Chanhassen, Minn.

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Dryke guided a foursome of students from Duluth Edison Charter Schools around a disc golf course. Dryke was enthusiastic and utterly devoted to the moment.

"When I see the kids have fun the more fun I have," he said. "We feed off each other."

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