Special Olympics underway in Fairhope

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) – Hundreds of Baldwin County students and fans filled Pirate Stadium in Fairhope Friday, March 21, 2014 for the Special Olympic Games.  Athletes from all grade levels competed in a variety of sporting events.

For over 20 years the Special Olympics has provided great competition and a day of fun for challenged student athletes throughout Baldwin County.  Two hundred and fifty athletes from 40 schools packed into Pirate Stadium in Fairhope to compete in this year’s games.  It’s a day they’ve been preparing for all year.

“We have Friday night football games and we have soccer games and these kids don’t get to participate so this is the day that is all about them,” said Leigh Anne McPherson, Special Education Supervisor for Baldwin County Schools.

Students from all grade levels competed in events like wheelchair races, softball throw, 50 yard dash and long jump.  Classmates, teachers and family surrounded the track and field to cheer them on and the competition was tough.  Samantha Collins from Robertsdale Elementary finished in the top of her heat in the 50 yard dash and I caught up with her after the race.

“What do you think about that,” I asked her.  “Well I think it’s very, very cool,” she said.  “Well you ran very, very fast,” I pointed out.  “Well I tried,” she responded matter-of-factly.  “Well that’s what it’s all about isn’t it,” I wondered.”  “Yep,” Collins said emphatically.

This year the Army National Guard honored one of the Olympians with the Special Olympic Spirit Award.

“Our main goal is to let these kids know that even though they’re not qualified to join the military, they are a big part of our community and they mean a lot to us along with the people that are qualified,” said Sgt. 1st class, Todd Jarrell of the Army National Guard.

This years winner was Rhett Johnson of Baldwin County High School.  He was a little excited when I talked to him.

“How heavy is it,” I asked.  “It’s heavy,” he said of the 16 inch tall, bronze trophy.  “Does that make it good,” I wondered.  “Yeah,” Johnson acknowledged.  “Are you excited,” I asked.  “Yes sir,” he quickly replied.  “What are you going to be doing today,” I asked.  “I’m running the dash.” Johnson replied with excitement.

No matter what order they crossed the finish line or how far they were able to throw a ball, the athletes showed up, competed and in turn conquered.  Just maybe the biggest gift of all was what they gave to all those who came to watch…true inspiration.

The games were kicked off by the customary law enforcement torch run up U.S. Highway 98 through Fairhope and into the stadium.  The run is the Special Olympics single biggest fundraising event of the year.

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