The rain that drizzled during opening ceremonies did not appear to dampen the spirits of nearly 200 athletes competing in Special Olympics Friday, April 12, at East Jackson Comprehensive High School.
The parade of athletes featured more than 100 students from the Jackson County School System as well as Commerce and Jefferson city schools, and hundreds of “buddies,” teachers, family members, and supporters cheered them on – some under umbrellas as the festivities started.
The Jefferson High School Color Guard started the parade, followed by Jackson County Comprehensive High School junior Jake Stinchcomb, the torchbearer.
The National Anthem was sung by East Jackson Comprehensive High School freshman Kaleb Hester, and the Athletes’ Oath was led by Gavin Thurmond, South Jackson Elementary School second-grader. Students from Commerce led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Athletes took a turn around the track, following banners that introduced their schools, before competition began. In addition to the walking/running, jumping, and throwing contests, they participated in an “Olympic Village” that offered games and treats, face painting and other activities.
A number of community groups, local businesses, and churches provided support, including Grove Level Baptist Church, which provided a Hospitality Tent for adult staffers; Southside Church, which offered face painting for the athletes; Home Depot, which provided a woodworking project; and Kona Ice, frozen treats. Other activities available for the athletes between events included a photo booth and games that involved some of the same skills they were demonstrating on the field.
“Buddies” – high school student volunteers, parents and other family members – escorted the athletes, ensured they were at the appropriate venue on time, and enthusiastically encouraged participation. Dana Richier, former teacher at JCCHS, served as emcee, announcing each race and providing color commentary.
Special Olympics programs around the world involve 4.9 million athletes with intellectual disablities and seeks to “get them off the sidelines” in the world of sports. More than 1 million coaches and volunteers support 223 national programs in 172 countries.
Founded in 1968, the organization’s 50th anniversary was marked with a cake provided for the participants at EJCHS by Sammie Reece of the Banks County Commissioners Office.
In addition to the activities as EJCHS, several schools sent their students off and/or welcomed them back with their fellow students lining the hallways and cheering.
See more photos and videos on the JCSS Facebook page.