Fun in the sun

Friday, May 11, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confher Special Olympians and mentors, students from the Marshall County School System, play on the seesaw at West Hills Elementary School during the annual games that lead to state-wide trials late this month.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County's annual special olympics, held recently at Westhills Elementary School, are leading to a couple of events in Nashville: statewide games; and a visit with the Tennessee Titans.

Among the 10 special athletes going to the football team's practice field are Noah and Nick Polk, two sons of Wendy and Jason Polk of Cornersville. They'll be introduced to "60 Minutes a Day," a program new to Wendy Polk, she said late this week, adding that she intends to find out more when she visits with the Titans.

The program advocates exercise for one hour every day.

Nick, 9, and Noah, 12, are invited to the statewide special olympic games a few days before they go to the Titans' practice field. Nick was a two-time silver medalist last week: once for the softball throw and again for the 100-meter race. Noah won gold medals in those events.

Contacted a few days after the games at Westhills, Wendy Polk and parents of some of the other contestants agreed to talk about their children.

Nick and Noah are: "developmentally delayed;" learn at a "slower pace;" and have been "held back" in school, Polk said. Nick is a special education student at Cornersville Elementary School.

"Nick was born without enough oxygen for a couple of minutes," she said. He weighed 10 pounds after a difficult delivery at Maury Regional Medical Center.

It's unknown why Noah is developmentally delayed, his mother said. He, too, was born at the hospital in Columbia.

Their father is Jason Polk, a custodian at Cornersville High School. Wendy is a stay-at-home mom.

Tammy Hughes of Belfast "enjoyed sharing the time with the kids and seeing all the things they come up with for the kids to do," she said. Her youngsters talk about returning to the games "all year long."

Her special Olympians are "functionally delayed," Hughes said.

Michael Hughes, 16, has DiGeorge Syndrome (caused by the lack of a small part of a particular chromosome,) she said. Albert Hughes, 14, has "a speech and language impairment."

The brothers know they are adopted into a large family, Tammy Hughes said.

"They had been neglected," she continued, confirming she's not disclosing anything the boys don't know, nor is it a secret.

On May 2, 1998, the boys' biological parents "ran off," Tammy Hughes said, "I was the baby sitter and had to get help for them."

She ended up adopting the boys.

"I'd already been through adoption classes and have been raising children," Tammy Hughes said. She has three grown daughters and they have children. Among the eight children she's raising now are Michael, Albert and some of Tammy's great-nephews and grandchildren.

Her story, and that of the boys and her family, are told as a matter of fact of life, but with a practical approach that might be stated simply - The more the merrier.

Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Julius Santini brought his 9-year-old son, William Andrew Santini, from their home in Chapel Hill to the elementary school playground in Lewisburg on that Friday last week.

His son earned first place medals in the 100- and 200-meter runs, the standing long jump and the softball throw.

The sergeant was impressed with the "opportunity that the event gives them," he said. "It's time to be a part of something."

Santini and his wife, Lee, have realized that their son "learns on a different level," he said. "At first he didn't speak real well..."

Now in the second grade, the boy "does pretty well in math," the father said.

It's unclear why the 9-year-old is challenged, but "He does a real good job of overcoming it."

The games were a self-confidence building event that taught him something about his son.

"Treat him like any other kid," Santini said. "Help him to learn, but he likes to be challenged."