Special Olympians headed to nationals fire up opening of local Aiken County games
GRANITEVILLE — The torch light shone Friday morning on local Special Olympians headed to the national games later this year.
The athletes ran the torch relay style around the football field at Midland Valley High School to open the Special Olympics South Carolina Area 15 Spring Games.
The torchbearers headed to the national competition in Seattle, Washington, are Matthew Legons, USA Games bowler; Shawn Mock, USA Games bowler; Anna Stewart, USA Games tennis player; Willie White, USA Games bowler; Dennis Richardson, Unified Partner bowling; and Carl Rapp, Unified Partner tennis.
“That is very special,” said Bonnie Fulghum, one of the coordinators of the Special Olympics. “It’s really quite an honor.”
While the local athletes are going to the national games in the fall, the state Special Olympics equestrian competition is coming to Aiken June 15-16 at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation on Powderhouse Road.
“Special Olympics Area 15 has a lot going on that is really, really special,” Fulghum said. “We’re really excited.”
More than 700 students from pre-school to high school and adults from the Tri-Development Center competed in this year’s event.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities with more than 4.9 million athletes in 172 countries and more a million volunteers, according to its website at specialolympics.org.
Locally, Special Olympics has two purposes, Fulghum said.
“It’s important for the kids to have their special day and perform with their peers and feel special and important,” she said. “It’s also important that our community embraces inclusion.”
After the traditional parade of athletes and a proclamation from Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon officially opening the games, the athletes and their buddies from Aiken County schools took to the field.
They tossed footballs, softballs, tennis balls and bean bags; ran an obstacle course; and charged down the track in 100-meter and 50-meter dashes.
Taylor Horne, 18, a Special Olympian who attends Midland Valley High, had just completed the bean bag toss – her favorite – and said she was looking forward to the 100-meter walk and the tennis ball throw.
“I like Special Olympics. It’s so fun. I like the activities,” said Horne, who is a veteran athlete at the games.
Lakaila Johnson, a sophomore at Midland Valley High School, volunteered to be a buddy for the first time this year.
“I felt like it was a good thing to do,” she said. “It allow the students to actually have fun rather than sitting in classes all day.”
And that feeling is contagious, Johnson added.
“I’m having fun, too,” she said.
Off the field, students created spin art, sand art, beaded jewelry and other artwork and crafts at the 32nd-annual Aiken Special Arts Festival, sponsored by the Aiken Woman’s Club. Students from Aiken County high schools and other local organizations also volunteered to help with the art projects.
The festival provides entertainment for the children when they’re not competing in the sports events, said Rita Supan with the Aiken Woman’s Club, a co-chairman with Lynn McDonald of the festival.
“That’s why we’re here,” she said. “People need to know that there are needs in this community, and everybody steps up and does it.”