By FRANCE GASQUET
The day began with the Special Olympics motto to remind everyone that to participate might be a little scary, but it might also be a lot of fun.
The 250 athletes from Area VIII of Tennessee gathered on Wednesday, April 23, for a highly-anticipated day: the Big Hatchie Region Special Olympics.
Participants from Area VIII, also known as the Big Hatchie Region, came from four counties: Tipton, Haywood, Lauderdale and Crockett.
The event, which serves individuals with intellectual disabilities, took place at Brighton High School, and has been held annually in the region since 1977 and in Tipton County for the last 10 years.
After the Pledge Of Allegiance and the lighting of the torch, and the “Walk of Champions” around the track, the games began.
“For a day, the kids have a wonderful time. Everybody is a winner. This is one day of the year that we know every person there is going to feel special,” said Lee Johnston, a volunteer with the organization since 1977.
The participants have practiced year round for the games. A person is only allowed to compete in two events, and it can be difficult to decide because there are so many options.
Special Olympics area director DeeDee Faulk, who has been associated with the event for the last 12 years, meets with a committee of six all year round to organize the special day.
Every participant is a winner and receives a ribbon, whether it is for first or fifth place. These games are also the qualifying event for the state games held in the fall.
According to Johnston, the volunteers receive as much from the event as the participants.
“The excitement of the kids; it’s the joy and excitement of them achieving their goals, it’s contagious. I look forward to this every year. It is addictive. I absolutely love doing this.”
More than 175 volunteers helped to make the day happen for the special needs persons and their families.
Volunteers this year came from the US Navy, Covington Exchange Club, Marvin Windows, TOPS, Bank of Tipton, Unilever, First State Bank, H.T. Hackney, the Tipton County Board of Education and many others.
For more information or to volunteer for next year’s event, contact Mary Cass Stewart at 475-4632 or visit the Special Olympics Area VIII Big Hatchie Region Facebook page.