Hundreds participate in Union County Special Olympics

by Josh Whitener

Spring Games sees elementary-aged athletes from 18 schools

Deondre Crawford waves to the crowd before lighting the torch for the Union County Special Olympics Spring Games. Josh Whitener/UCW photo

INDIAN TRAIL – More than 1,000 people filled the football stadium at Porter Ridge High School Thursday morning, May 24, for the 2012 Union County Special Olympics Spring Games.

About 300 elementary-aged athletes from 18 different schools participated in games such as the softball throw and track and field activities. Hundreds of parents, students, teachers and administrators showed up to cheer on the athletes as they vied for the coveted gold medals.

Nearly 350 students from all Union County high schools volunteered to serve as buddies at the event. Each athlete was teamed up with at least one buddy who provided assistance and encouragement during the games.

A special opening ceremony kicked off the event at 10 a.m. All of the athletes marched around the track for their grand entrance into the stadium. The oaths and code of conduct were read, followed by Sedrick Faulkner’s rendition of the national anthem and the lighting of the torch by Deondre Crawford and David Miller.

Faulkner, 25, will participate Friday in the adult Special Olympics and is excited about the friendly competition the event brings.

“It helps me with my goals,” he said.

Fredrea Smith, local coordinator for the Union County Special Olympics, said the number of participants has grown by about 100 since last year. Some of the winners of gold medals will go on to compete in the Special Olympics at the state level.

Winners of gold medals at the state competition are entered into a drawing that chooses national participants randomly.

“There’s just so many participants, they can’t afford to send everybody to nationals,” Smith said.

Special-needs students from across Union County march into Porter Ridge High School’s stadium before the games begin. Josh Whitener/UCW photo

For the past seven years, the Special Olympics have been held at Porter Ridge High. Principal Sam Badsen, who’s been at the school five years, believes Special Olympics is an important part of the school’s mission.

“All our babies matter,” Badsen said. “We do things to highlight other programs on a regular basis. This is just what we do. It’s just another segment of our students that we’re choosing to highlight in a big way, because they all matter.”

Deanna Nardell, a special-needs teacher at Porter Ridge High who helps coordinate the event, believes volunteering with the Special Olympics is a valuable experience for high school students.

“I think it’s important for the typical teenagers to be associated with special-needs kids and get to know a little bit about them, as well as the athletes getting to know their other peers as well,” Nardell said.

Alex Fisher, a Porter Ridge junior, has volunteered with the Union County Special Olympics for the past three years. The 16-year-old said nothing really compares to the joy she gets from seeing the athletes enjoy the games and helping them out along the way.

“I just really like hanging out with them,” Alex said. “Just seeing them get so excited and happy is the best part, for me.”

For more information on the Union County Special Olympics, visit www.letmewin.wordpress.com.

Sedrick Faulkner sings the national anthem. Josh Whitener/UCW photo

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