LAURINBURG — Tuesday morning’s gloomy weather had no effect on the moods of the athletes in the Special Olympics of Scotland County, as more than 120 local schoolchildren competed in the various games.
The event began under a gray sky and a cool breeze, although the sun began to poke out after about an hour to warm up the field. The games featured several running, throwing and jumping events.
Frannie Mason is a program director with Exceptional Children, a program within North Carolina public schools that aims to help students with disabilities. She spoke to the crowd of volunteers and parents before the games began, and told them that if the weather was making them feel down, they only needed to look at the faces of the athletes to see how brightly they were shining.
“This is one of the highlights of the year for everybody, so it’s just exciting,” Mason said.
Scotland High School led in the parade of schools at 9:30 to start the ceremony. Scotland was joined by 11 other middle and elementary schools that came to take part in the festivities. Once the teams were all out on the field, Janae Moore, a student from the high school, carried the torch down the track and lit the main flame to kickoff the day’s events. Mason said the event is very important to the competitors.
“These kids oftentimes will not get a chance to shine as athletes, and sometimes not get a chance to shine at all, academically or as athletes, and to have that opportunity to get here where someone is cheering them on and building their self-esteem is fantastic,” Mason said.
Carol Nichols is the coordinator for the Special Olympics, and handles the majority of the planning. She started volunteering to lead the organization after meeting some of the students through the therapeutic writing program at St. Andrews.
“I just love these kids. I mean look at them, they’re having a great time,” Nichols said. “I wanted this event to continue and it would not continue without someone doing it, and I just wanted them to have this opportunity and I think they enjoy it, and it’s a great event for them.”
Over 200 volunteers were out to assist in the games on Tuesday. In addition to the scorekeepers at each station, every athlete had a “buddy” that would accompany them to the different events.
Mason said the community is always very involved in the games, and people tend to stay committed once they see how much fun the students have.
“They see what it does and then if they ever come one time, they want to come back. It’s an event that’s really rewarding to anyone that participates,” Mason said.