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July 7, 2008

Boepple's Special Olympics program thriving at Yellow Jackets Club

Sophie McGarrah of Hamilton could barely sleep in the days leading up to the competition at Harvard last month.

For three straight days, McGarrah, 9, was "up with the birds at 5:15 a.m.," said her mother, Beth Dowd.

Dowd wasn't bothered in the least by her daughter's lack of sleep. A couple of years ago, the Special Olympics gymnastics team from the Yellow Jackets Club in Middleton didn't even exist, so her daughter wouldn't have had an opportunity to participate.

But thanks to former Masconomet gymnast Heather Boepple of Topsfield, who founded the program in March of 2007, McGarrah and seven other girls in the 8-13 age bracket represented the Yellow Jackets in the state's Special Olympic Games at Harvard recently.

"We were so looking forward to it," said Dowd. "It was Father's Day weekend, but we wouldn't have traded (participation at the Special Olympics) for anything."

The Yellow Jackets fared well at the competition. McGarrah finished second in the floor routine and Alex Talbot, 10, of North Andover placed third on floor. Julia Morin, 9, of Hamilton, Caroline Clavin, 8, of Newbury and Devin DeSisto of Andover were first in the all-around in their respective age groups and levels of competition. Meanwhile, Kayla Snover, 12, of Lynnfield was second on vault and Olivia Leahy, 8, of North Andover finished third on beam.

Still, everyone involved in the Yellow Jackets program would agree that the results were secondary to the sunshine that this relatively new program has brought into the kids' lives.

"You keep thinking, who are these people giving their time and effort to help these kids?" said Dowd. "It restores your faith in human beings."

Boepple, who graduated from the University of Vermont after going to Masconomet, organized a Special Olympics team under the Yellow Jackets banner after getting encouragement from Carie Miele, the event director for gymnastics for Massachusetts Special Olympics. Boepple had no coaching experience with Special Olympians, but she had common sense, smarts and recruiting skills in assembling like-minded gymnasts to coach the kids, who required one-on-one attention.

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