The sun wasn't the only thing shining Monday morning as Brighton High School hosted the Area VIII Special Olympics for the 12th straight year.

Approximately 342 athletes from Tipton, Haywood and Lauderdale county schools, plus participants from SRVS and the Helen Tucker Center, competed in the 100 meters, long jump, broad jump, bocce ball and softball throw as hundreds cheered them on.

This year's theme was "Choose to include."

"It's exciting for me because it's exciting for them. We're here to support them," said Dee Dee Trantham, Area VIII Special Olympics director. "These are typical athletes that want to be winners as well. This is their opportunity to shine."

While the athletes are the stars of the show, a lot of people make it happen. Marvin Windows and Millington Naval Base provided the bulk of the 100-plus volunteers. Several high school seniors from Tipton County Schools were also on hand to help.

H.T. Hackney donated food for the athletes, coaches and volunteers and the Knights of Columbus and Sno Cottage donated proceeds from concessions.

As athletes finished up their events and took a break, they were all smiles.

"It was really fun out here," said Simone Bland, a fifth-grader at Crestview Elementary. 

Brianna Alexander, a fourth-grader at Crestview, finished second in her 100 meters race.

"It's fun," she said with a big smile. "I like running and playing with friends."

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email​