County hosts 120 Special Olympians
The sun shone brightly Friday in Chapel Hill but not as brightly as some of the smiles of the athletes getting their day in the sun.
Chapel Hill Elementary School hosted this year’s edition of the Marshall County Special Olympics.
The event keeps getting bigger and better every year.
“We were thrilled with the turnout,” Jessica Preston said, the county coordinator for the Special Olympics.
Athletes participating rose to approximately 120 this year compared to about 80 last year, with more adult athletes participating in particular.
Officially, athletes aged five to 22 years old are eligible, although Preston said that anyone who wanted to participate in the county-level competition was welcome.
Students from CHES and Delk Henson Intermediate School made signs of support and lined the parade route at the opening of the games to cheer along the participants.
“We were getting so much community involvement,” she said. “Everyone was more than willing to step up and help.”
Approximately 70 high schoolers from all over the county volunteered their day to help with the games, paired with individual athletes to cheer them on.
“The athletes loved that,” said Preston.
Businesses across the county really stepped up as well, she said, providing support for both the athletes and volunteers.
“So many places were excited about participating,” Preston said.
“This was a big crowd,” said Preston, adding that an additional 100 residents from the community showed up to show their support.
First State Bank presented a check for $3,700.94 in support of the event. The funds came from the Spare Change for the Special Olympics drive held at the three Chapel Hill area schools. Students donated their spare change in support of the Special Olympics.
Preston teaches physical education at CHES and DHIS and is working toward a degree in special education as well.
The goal of Special Olympics is to provide opportunities for athletic training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“They deserve a day to compete,” said Preston.
Participants, split up into age groups, compete in events like the softball throw, sprints, or bocce, the Italian form of lawn bowling, and can qualify for larger competitions as well.
Marshall County takes a delegation of up to 16 athletes to the state games in Nashville in May.
Bailey Allen served the grand marshal for this year’s event.
The Forrest student was chosen because of his academic achievements and his leadership in the community.
In addition to carrying the torch in the parade, Allen delivered an address to the athletes.
The official motto of Special Olympics is “Let me win, But if I cannot win, Let me be brave in the attempt.”
Allen summed up the goal for the athletes in his own words, covering far more than just a day competing in the Special Olympics.
“Good luck. Do your best,” he said.