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Special Olympics bring smiles to students

Daily Herald - 4/22/2018

April 22--After five years at Spring Hill Middle School, the Maury County Special Olympic Summer Games returned to Columbia Academy on Friday for a day of friendly competition and fun.

"Its very exciting to be here," said Chynse Jones, a junior a Central High School. "I like giving people high-fives."

Special Olympics is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition.

Jones said she enjoys competing in the track events. She took home a blue ribbon for the 50-meter dash.

"Its super-duper fun, and you know I like super-duper fun," she continued.

More than 250 young athletes from Maury County's schools competed in the 25-, 50- and 100-meter dashes, the standing long jump and a softball throw.

"Our kids feel so included because we get to bring in so many volunteers," said Anna Cat Sheppard, the president of Columbia Central's Best Buddies Program and a senior at the school. "They just know that they are loved. Everyone here treats them like anybody else and it is great to see that the community comes together to put this on."

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization that works with schools and other organizations to create one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Columbia Central High School and Columbia Academy are two of 318 participating school chapters worldwide.

North America has over half a million athletes participating in all 32 sports offered by Special Olympics. It is home to athletes from Canada, the Caribbean and the United States.

To put on the event, 250 volunteers from the Best Buddies programs at Columbia Central High School and Columbia Academy, along with the Columbia'sKnights of Columbus and Elks Lodge all gathered at the school's athletic field.

"It is really heartwarming," said Amelia Callahan, a junior at Central and a fellow member of Best Buddies. "They know we love them. It is fun to be in this little family."

The event continues a more than 30 year tradition of upholding inclusive athleticism in the region, organizers said.

"We are glad to be back in Columbia Academy," Shannon Neff said during Friday's events. "The smiles on the kids faces, that is what makes me come back year after year."

Neff, a recreational therapist at King's Daughters' School, has been the event's lead coordinator for 17 years.

Ray Turner is a member of both the local Knights and the Elks club and has contributed to the event for nearly three decades.

"It's all about the kids and to see the smiles on their faces," Turner said. "It is great to see all these organizations working together. It is just great."

The organizations work throughout the year to make the games happen every year.

-- National games to be held in Seattle --

On the national level, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will take place in SeattleJuly 1 through 6.

A grand total of 3,500 Special Olympics athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 1,000 coaches, 10,000 family members, 10,000 volunteers and an estimated 50,000 spectators will take part in this premier national sports competition, showcasing the power and joy of sports at the highest levels, the organization said.

"We look forward to welcoming 3,500 athletes, their families, friends and supporters to Washington state in 2018," Washington Governor Jay Inslee said. "The skills, courage and determination of these athletes is inspiring. Washington will model the spirit of Special Olympics -- to be more aware and more inclusive. What a wonderful legacy these games will leave behind."

During a press conference announcing the event at the University of Wahsington'sHusky Stadium, the games were called the city's most significant sporting event since the 1990 Goodwill Games.

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to nearly 5 million athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and nearly 100,000 games and competitions throughout the year.

In the words of Maury County's Jones, "have fun, be safe and stay super."


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