With the running of the 2011 Special Olympics torch across the Pate Stadium football field this week, the Scotland County Special Olympics officially kicked off a day to honor some of the county’s most inspiring athletes.
More than 110 competitors and 175 volunteers packed the Scotland High School stadium Tuesday, with 10 different area schools representing the organization in the opening Parade of Athletes.
The event mixed together children from across Scotland County’s six elementary schools, three middle schools and Scotland High, pairing athletes together with local volunteers for a day of competition in events like the 50 meter and 100 meter runs, long jump and softball throw.
Scotland County Special Olympics Local Coordinator Carol Nichols jumped started the day with a special welcome for the athletes before they rushed off to their events.
Nichols said the Special Olympics provided an important environment for volunteers to spend one-on-one time with special needs students, while giving the athletes a chance to show their mettle on the field.
“It’s a joy,” Nichols said. “It’s such a joy. The reason I’m involved in the Special Olympics is because I love their enthusiasm and their spirit. They are just so excited to be out here. We try to do a buddy system with the one-on-one athletes so they have someone with them, cheering them on and supporting them. It’s a joy to see them included in the day.”
Along with the field competitions, the event hosted booths for dancing, crafts, hovercraft rides and even a magician.
Special Olympics athlete Jaleel Terry, who ran the opening ceremonies torch onto the field, said that his run in front of the crowd was the best part of his day.
“I had a lot of fun running the torch,” said Terry, a student at Scotland High School. “It was fun getting to run in front of everyone.”
Ten-year-old Diana Roper, a student at the Scotland Accelerated Academy, said she hoped to win a medal.
“I want to win and get a medal today,” she said. “I want to win a gold medal and have a good time.”
While medals are hard to win, every athlete earned a spot at the top of the podium in the volunteers’ hearts with a combination of determination and smiles.
“It’s fun to watch all the athletes our here today,” said Jamie Smid, a member the SHS School of Health Science. “It feels really good to be out here. It puts a smile on my face seeing them out here laughing and having a good time, especially when they compete and get a chance to stand on the podium and put a medal around their necks. I’m glad I had the chance to be our here today and thankful that they let me share this experience with them.”
The sweat that rolled down the Special Olympics athletes’ necks reminded onlookers that their dreams are as real as anyone else’s, showing us that it is not all about that the fact that you win, but about the bravery shown when competing.
Scotland sophomore Ali Morgan said that the Special Olympics were not only a place for the athletes to have a fun morning, but a time for volunteers to get to know some of the unique talents the athletes have to offer.
“It’s a really great experience and opportunity to help out a good cause,” Morgan said. “Coming out here really helps you understand how important the little things are and the athletes we help are so appreciative. People look at is as you doing them a favor, but really they’re doing us a favor by giving us the chance to hang out with them, even if just for a day.”
Students, volunteers honored
The Scotland County Special Olympics committee also recognized two volunteers and a Scotland High School club for work with the Special Olympics at the opening ceremony.
North Laurinburg fifth grader Quandarious Seabron was honored with the Chuck Sligh Award, given annually to a student athlete who exemplifies the ideals addressed in the Special Olympic motto.
Ellen Forester, the committee’s secretary, was recognized with the Julian Butler Award. The honor is presented to an individual or group who has contributed outstanding service to Scotland County Special Olympics.
Nichols also presented SHS Key Club President Will Purcell, on behalf of the Scotland High School Key Club, with a plaque for their efforts with Special Olympics and Project UNIFY.
Special Olympics Project UNIFY is an education-based project that uses sports and education programs to activate young people to develop school communities where all youth are agents of change – fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.
Purcell and the Key Club rose over $400 for the Special Olympics at a Rock-a-Thon held this year and over 400 signatures on a pledge banner for the Spread the Word, Stop the Word campaign to help combat the derogatory use of the word retarded.
“Carol Nichols wanted to get more students involved at Scotland High School with the Special Olympics,” said Scotland senior Will Purcell. “What she approached us (Key Club) with was becoming a part of Project UNIFY. It’s a nationally recognized program that’s about including children with special needs into every day school life. Over the course of the year, the Key Club has helped with physical education with the special needs students. It’s been very encouraging and helped us make new friends.”
With medals on their necks, the Scotland County Special Olympics put on a show for fans.
To fans, the athletes may not be the fastest and may not jump the farthest, but the students representing Scotland County showed off the greatest display of pride, grit and fearlessness that any athlete has left out on the field this season.