West Florence High hosts Special Olympics spring games

March 28, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – West Florence High School hosted the Area 1 Special Olympics spring games Wednesday morning.

Among the participants were students from several Florence One schools, Darlington County, and the Florence County and Marion County Disabilities and Special Needs boards.

“It means a lot because differences aren’t always recognized,” said Brian Denny, special education director for Florence One Schools. “Those with differences aren’t always given the opportunity to participate in sports. For this to be just about them and for them is really, really special.”

“It’s a fun day although it’s cold today,” said Hope Jones, a teacher at McLaurin Elementary School. “Special Olympics teaches skills, independence, and it creates friendships. It’s just a really nice organization for our students who don’t always have an outlet.”

Jones said her students were too young to compete in the games but were participating in a youth event to prepare for future competition. She added that her students are “non-verbal.”

Kara Harmon, director of program services for Special Olympics South Carolina, was on hand Monday to open the games.

“This is such an awesome opportunity for our athletes to really showcase their abilities and their talents,” Harmon said. “It’s a day just celebrating them. What I think is so cool is watching them get the opportunity.”

Harmon said that everyone at Wednesday’s games had the opportunity to move onto the state competition. From there, the best athletes in the state have the opportunity to compete at the national and even international levels.

The first Special Olympics were held on July 20, 1968, in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Through the work of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of President John F. Kennedy and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, the organization was gradually built in the 1960s. The Kennedys had a sister, Rosemary, who suffered with mental disabilities.

The most recent Special Olympics World Games were held on March 14-21 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Special Olympic World Games rotate between winter and summer games on a two-year schedule, with the summer games in 2019 and the winter games in 2021. Sweden is scheduled to host those contests.

Summer games sports include track and field, badminton, basketball, bowling, cycling, soccer, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, roller skating, softball, swimming, and tennis. Winter sports include skiing, hockey, speed skating, snowboarding, and skating.

Harmon said three athletes from Florence had recently completed in events in snowboarding and skiing.

Special Olympics South Carolina is the largest organization in the state for persons with intellectual or physical disabilities. The organization divides the Palmetto State into 16 areas. Florence County is grouped with Dillon and Marion counties in Area 1.