Special games for some special athletes
It was fitting that the opening ceremony for Friday's Caldwell County Special Olympics Winter School Games took place the same day as the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Only instead of the Olympic theme of “faster, higher, stronger,” the slogan for these athletes is “training for life.”
The winter school games, held at South Caldwell High School, serve athletes from the county’s elementary, middle and high schools, along with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute and a few home-schooled athletes. The event puts athletes through games in the school's main gymnasium that test basketball, soccer and softball skills. Other adaptive games, such as the obstacle course and a tunnel crawl, were held in an auxiliary gymnasium.
“I’m so appreciative they have something like this for the children,” said Lynn Martin, a volunteer who was assisting 14-year-old Jason Rohr, a Gamewell Middle School seventh-grader who is sight- and hearing-impaired. “It’s very rewarding. You can’t help but have tears in your eyes when you watch them.”
Also assisting the athletes was 27-year-old Samantha Byrd of Lenoir, who competed the past four years and now serves as a “global messenger” for the games.
“I want to spread the word about what the Special Olympics is,” she said. “We want people to see our athletes can really play, and shine.”
The main gym began to fill up around 9 a.m. with athletes, spectators and the 100 or so volunteers. Some were pushed in wheelchairs, while others were led by hand. Before long, the bleachers were awash with blue Special Olympics T-shirts. A cheerleading squad of athletes from CCC&TI led the crowd through its signature moves and cheers.
The athletes then dispersed to the different areas, where they were encouraged and applauded every time a free throw attempt was made, or a basketball was bounced. One athlete eager to compete was 7-year-old Jesse Petty, who impatiently waited his turn at the obstacle course. Jesse couldn't wait for the whistle to blow, and began negotiating the course to the cheers of the crowd. The outcome seemed less important as he did his best to make a good showing. Awards were presented in each division, but the applause and cheers were evenly dispersed no matter how they placed.
Perhaps the message on the backs of the blue T-shirts summed up the games best: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."