Sunshine and sunny smiles were aplenty at this year's Macon County Special Olympics Games held at the Macon Middle School athletic field on Friday, April 8. More than 80 athletes participated in 15 different track and field events, including the long jump, the tennis ball throw, the softball throw, the 50 meter dash and the 10 meter assisted walk, just to name a few.
The Special Olympics gives children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to be involved in athletic activities and competition which give them a sense of pride and belonging, keep them physically fit and bring them together with other members of the community. Every year, parents, friends, siblings and other members of the community come out to support the athletes and cheer their performance on the field.
The games also “raise community awareness about mentally challenged athletes” and help to “get rid of the stigmas they face,” says Jennifer Garrett, the Macon County Coordinator for the Special Olymics.
This year, Macon Middle School New Century Scholars partnered with Macon Middle School athletes in a Project Unify campaign to show support for people with intellectual disabilities and to end the use of the derogatory word, ‘retard.’ For the three days before the Special Olympics games at the middle school, the group hung a banner in the lobby to show their support for the Special Olympic athletes. The group and Special Olympics athletes talked about the issues with other students and asked them to show their support by signing the banner.
The Project Unify team and students from the Franklin High School track team participated in the games, helping with timing and other things. “When they see the Project Unify students and the kids from Franklin High School there wearing their track uniforms, that just lights up every one of our athletes,” said Garrett. “It makes them feel like they are cool and part of the team.”
At the countywide games, athletes compete in all of the same events that will be at the regional games scheduled for May 6 in Cherokee. The county event gives the athletes a chance to practice and get their division assignments for the regional event.
Garrett noted that most of the support of the Special Olympics is community-based. Other community sponsors included The Fun Factory, Kmart, Little Ceasar's Pizza, Louisa Chapel Baptist Church, the American Legion, which did a presentation of colors at the games, Macon County Schools, Macon County Public Health and Macon County Parks and Recreation.
Once again, the Macon County Sheriff's Office participated in the Torch Run. Representatives from the Macon County Board of Commissioners attending included Ronnie Beale, Bobby Kuppers and Kevin Corbin. Schools superintendent Dan Brigman also attended.
The Special Olympics encourages community involvement. For those interested in coaching Special Olympic athletes, organizing fundraisers, serving on the committee or helping out in other ways, call Jennifer Garrett at (828)349-2428.