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Canon-Mac grad organizes first Special Olympics Field Day at Bethany College

Allison Paxton graduated from Canon-McMillan in 2018 with a secret – she was diagnosed in first grade with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

“It was something I kept to myself,” she said. “It was not something I would tell my friends about. I was so nervous and scared and unsure about how people would react. I strived so hard to be what I thought was normal, that I never thought I should open up about it.”

Now, she’s using her story to influence change and to make history at Bethany College by organizing the community’s first Special Olympics Field Day. From 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. today, special-needs individuals from around the community will have the chance to learn how to play sports, including soccer, football, volleyball, basketball, golf, track and field at the college’s recreation center.

Paxton, a sophomore who’s studying psychology, started organizing the event in April, after seeing a friend post on social media about a Special Olympics event in which she had been involved.

“I knew it would be something that truly changed this campus,” Paxton said. “There’s nothing like this here for those individuals, and nothing like this has been done here before, so we’re making history.”

Since she serves as vice president of the student activities council, she went to the council’s adviser, Sam Goodge, the executive director of student affairs, to ask for help getting the event started.

“We’ve been putting this together, but it’s mostly been her – she’s a rock star,” Goodge said. “She’s one of those people that just doesn’t stop.”

He said one of the biggest accomplishments of the event is that Bethany is the first college or university in West Virginia to “form an official partnership with the National Office of Special Olympics.” He said they reached out to the national office because they have a college program. From there, they got in touch with state and local Special Olympics organizers.

“She’s put together a countywide Special Olympics Field Day at 19 years old,” Goodge said. “She’s really having an impact on people and encouraging people to try new things.”

And because she’s only a sophomore, Goodge hopes that she’ll have time to develop and grow the event further before she graduates.

“Hopefully, when she does graduate, someone else will be ready to step in,” he said. “Going forward, the goal is that it will happen every year.”

As a two-sport athlete, Paxton is very passionate about giving people with special needs “a fun way to try a new sport.” She now competes in soccer and track, and in high school she also played lacrosse.

“From a social perspective, I always felt different from everyone else – that made it difficult to fit in with a team,” she said.

Growing up with Asperger’s syndrome, Paxton said she used to struggle with eye contact and processing emotions. She also battled a negative stigma surrounding her diagnosis, and she didn’t want people to label her with false limitations. Sports helped prevent that.

“A lot of times exclusion is such a big issue,” she said. “I think that sports have given me a whole new perspective and feeling of worth. I think being with people that want you to do well and succeed has made me a lot less timid. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ and I know my teammates are going to love me no matter what.”

That’s the experience she wanted to share with others and what drove her to organize the event, for which more than 100 people volunteered and more than 20 athletes participated.

“Being who I am and a person with specials needs, I wanted to give people hope that they can do it,” she said. “Even if it’s only four hours here, I want them to feel special. I know they face so many obstacles on a daily basis. I think this event is going to not only change these athletes but also all the volunteers.”

Senate hearing on high-speed broadband internet access highlights infrastructural challenges ahead

“You all know what the problem is,” Pennsylvania State Grange President Wayne Campbell told the seven state lawmakers who assembled at Penn State Fayette Thursday to listen to him and 13 other panelists discuss how high-speed broadband internet access impacts agriculture and education. “How do we fix it?”

Campbell then answered his own question.

“It boils down to money.”

Spanning more than three hours, the Senate Communications & Technology Committee hearing highlighted the many obstacles Pennsylvania faces as it seeks to improve access to high-speed broadband internet and how lacking access has adversely impacted education and agriculture both locally and statewide.

“Our goal is to try to quantify the size, the scope, the magnitude of this problem,” said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County, who chairs the Communications & Technology Committee and conducted the hearing, the third of four held to collect feedback on how lack of high-speed internet can affect various key industries in the state.

Paul Allison, associate vice president for information technology at California University of Pennsylvania, said students need strong broadband service even before enrollment since most institutions use online applications for the college application process. Once admitted, high-bandwidth activities like course content, interactive learning tools, student exam identity authentication and assignment submissions present challenges for students who have slow home or library internet.

“Lack of broadband access greatly increases the likelihood that a student will not complete their degree program,” Allison said, adding that there remains a gap between a $200 tablet and actually getting online and connected.

Jeffrey L. Medvec, information technology manager for Penn State Fayette, reported that some students struggle with limited broadband access, using their cellphones as a wireless access point, coming in early or staying late in a campus computer lab to submit homework, and having to attend online classes on campus because they couldn’t connect from home.

Darrin Younker, director of state government affairs for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, recounted the story of a dairy farming couple in Centre County struggling to get software upgrades for a robotic milker and paying around $250 a month for satellite internet service, and the plight of a Berks County couple whose internet service at their farm is too slow for credit card sales, requiring them to use a service that stores all their credit card transactions.

“Infrastructure needs to be built, and you guys need to kind of help us get there,” Medvec said.

But the hearing’s final panel, which included representatives from communication providers Atlantic Broadband, Crown Castle and CenturyLink, illustrated why getting there won’t be easy.

Crown Castle and CenturyLink representatives lamented what they said were cumbersome and outdated regulations hindering efforts toward broadband deployment.

Josh Motzer, government affairs director for CenturyLink, said that it’s not economically feasible to install individual fiber optic cables to every home in rural areas, adding that CenturyLink has been installing fiber and upgrading electronics in remote serving devices that then connect to homes using existing copper wires.

Tom Musgrove, government affairs manager for Crown Castle, said there is reduced wireless industry capital investment in Pennsylvania “due to the unpredictability of the regulatory environment at the local level,” urging commonwealth lawmakers to pass a statewide law that governs small cells. Small cell networks are comprised of low-powered antennas that provide coverage.

“We’ve heard about this need of modernizing our (telecommunications) regulations at every hearing that we have held,” said Phillips-Hill, who was joined by fellow committee members Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, Scott E. Hutchinson, R-Venango County, and Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, as well as Reps. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, and Bud Cook, R-West Pike Run Township.

Snyder, who formed the Broadband Caucus with Phillips-Hill in the House last year when the latter was a House member, introduced a legislative package in January that called for conducting an inventory of state communications assets to leverage existing state-owned assets for expanding high-speed broadband internet, investigating compliance of non-rural telecommunications carriers and establishing a bipartisan, bicameral legislative commission to recommend improvements to high-speed broadband deployment.

“The reality is, in 2019, you cannot compete if you cannot connect,” Snyder said.

Phillips-Hill asked the communications providers how much it would cost to deploy broadband service throughout all 67 counties statewide.

Fran Bradley, government affairs director for Atlantic Broadband and chairman of the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania, said that a cost estimate for providing broadband service to a rural county in Maryland totaled $200 million.

“And that was for one county in Maryland,” Bradley said.

“I don’t think there is enough money to just write the check and be done,” Motzer said. “We need to start making incremental progress so that we don’t waste any more time or any more years without policy … We need a broadband policy.”

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Two killed in Greene County wreck

Two women were killed Friday evening in a two-vehicle accident in Perry Township, Greene County.

State police in Waynesburg said Deborah L. Spacht, 56, of Mt. Morris and Nancy Harvey, 78, of Morgantown, W.Va., were killed as a result of the 5:45 p.m. wreck.

The vehicle driven by Spacht was traveling south on Mt. Morris Road (Route 19), approaching the West Virginia state line, when it abruptly accelerated and crossed into northbound traffic. Spacht’s vehicle collided with Harvey’s vehicle, which flipped onto its side and struck an embankment, according to state police.

Spacht and her passenger, Linda G. Menear, 48, of Morgantown, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected from the vehicle. Spacht was pronounced dead at the scene.

Harvey was a passenger in the vehicle driven by Paul M. Harvey, 55, also of Morgantown. Menear and Paul Harvey were taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital for treatment of their suspected serious injuries.

Carl E. Rush, the Greene County coroner, is investigating what caused Spacht’s death.

Assisting state police were Mt. Morris Fire Company, EMS Southwest, Jack’s Towing, the Greene County Coroner’s Office and patrol, criminal investigations, forensic services and CARS units of the state police.

Man killed outside stadium during game, prompting evacuation

JEANNETTE (AP) – A man was shot and killed outside of a Pennsylvania stadium during the final minutes of a high school football game, prompting evacuation of the stadium, authorities said.

The shooting was reported at 9:20 p.m. Friday outside the Park Street gate of McKee Stadium in Jeannette, where Jeannette and Imani Christian were playing, police said.

Dameian Williams, 48, was shot after a verbal altercation with another person and pronounced dead at Excela Westmoreland’s emergency department, the Westmoreland County coroner’s office said.

City police took Greg Harper, 40, of Jeannette, into custody, and he was arraigned on charges of homicide and reckless endangerment.

Police said in a criminal complaint that Harper said Williams approached him to talk outside the stadium, then hit him twice in the head, knocking him to the ground, after which he drew a weapon and fired. Court documents don’t list a defense attorney; messages were left at numbers listed for Harper.

The game between Jeanette High School and Imani Christian was called with under 4 minutes left in the game and Jeanette leading 48-0. Fans in the stadium were evacuated on the opposite side of the facility from the shooting, with no injuries reported.

The Jeannette City School District said in a statement that when the shooting was reported, city police, stadium security and district administrators took immediate action to secure the area and relocate players, coaches, band and cheerleaders to a safe location. Counseling services were to be made available to students and staff.

“The terrible events of last evening do not reflect the heart of our community, its citizens and certainly not our beloved school district,” the district said in a message posted on its Facebook page.