Special Olympics athletes enjoy day of winter fun

The 43rd annual Special Olympics Winter Carnival took place Thursday, Feb. 16, at Confidence Learning Center in East Gull Lake.

A pair of students tube down a snowy hill.
Jaykob Anderson, front, and George Sluka from Pillager go tubing down a sliding run during the Special Olympics Winter Carnival on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at Confidence Learning Center in East Gull Lake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

EAST GULL LAKE — More than 500 students, teachers and volunteers flocked to Confidence Learning Center Thursday, Feb. 16, for the 43rd annual Region Five Special olympics Winter Carnival.

“It’s just a day where everyone comes together and has a great time,” said Sarah Smith, marketing and event director at Confidence Learning Center.

Special Olympics athletes and their unified partners from schools in Brainerd, Pillager, Little Falls, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Menahga, Milaca, Isle, Onamia, Pierz and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley came out for a day of fun. Cold temperatures and plenty of sunshine met participants as they played broomball and ice bowling, went ice fishing, tubed down a fast hill and got their faces painted.

Little Falls students Brady Meyer and Ayden Plumski were on the ice, throwing balls to knock down bricks and bowling pins. As a regular bowler, Meyer said it was his favorite activity Thursday.

The tubing hill was another favorite because participants got to zoom down the hill, Little Falls student Matthew Hershberger said. Abby Hakes and Savannah Kunze sped so fast that Hakes’ hat fell off near the bottom.


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Students warmed up with hot chocolate in between activities before gearing up for more fun.

“We are just overwhelmed by the turnout and can’t say thank you enough to all that help make this possible, especially to Special Olympics Minnesota for continuing to come to Confidence Learning Center each year,” Camp Director Mary Harder said in a news release.

Confidence Learning Center is a nonprofit organization on Sylvan Lake open year-round serving people of all ages with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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