Special Olympics comes to Butler County
Sunshine prevailed in Greenville as gentle breezes swept away the early morning clouds to provide a day of Olympian' beauty.
Equally sunny smiles lit up the faces of many of the 130 special athletes gathered in the Camellia City on May 10.
That day, Greenville High School's Tiger Stadium was the setting for the first Tri-County/Tri-Center Special Olympics, hosted by Greenville's own Butler Activity and Training Center.
To pull off such an event involved much planning, publicity, organization, patience, determination and a generous dose of T.L.C.
This Special Olympics was put together by a hard-working and enthusiastic group of the Greenville Center's staff members: Minnie Peterson, Elaine Sexton, Director Sheila Martin, Susan Bush, Mamie Lett, Sam McKee, Elnoria Grayson, Debbie Phelps and Shannon Herbert.
Participants, along with staff and volunteers, traveled from the Coffee County Training Center in Enterprise, the Covington County Adult Training Center in Andalusia and the center in Greenville to join in an exciting and fun-filled day of friendly competition.
The event was kicked off mid-morning with a parade of athletes bearing colorful banners and balloons around the field.
The march was led by Janet Cooper of the South Central Alabama Mental Health Association (SCAMHA). Cooper served as both the energetic Olympic torchbearer and charismatic mistress of ceremonies for the day.
Cooper gave the special athletes a fired-up challenge to "each do your best and give that 110%!"
The proud competitors were cheered on and applauded by some spirit-filled elementary students on hand in the stands for a portion of the day.
Lori Brogden is one of four case managers for the three centers participating in the Olympics.
She remarked on how "excited" the centers' consumers had been in the weeks leading up to Thursday's event.
That enthusiasm showed in the "can-do" attitude of the special athletes as they rotated through the different events, which included the softball throw, standing broad jump, bean bag toss, "walk and pop"(the balloon on the chair), the 20-meter dash and the 50-meter dash.
Coach Stonicher and student volunteers from GHS assisted with measuring and timing the athletes' performances, escorting them to and from their events and tallying up the scores.
Volunteers from the City of Greenville, the Greenville Parks and Recreation Department, the Civitan Club, the Greenville Fire Department, area churches, organizations and caring individuals also were on hand to help out with everything from marking the field and distributing snacks to sharing a congratulatory hug.
After a busy morning of running, throwing and jumping, everyone took a midday break from the heat and activity to enjoy a lunch and beverages provided by area restaurants and businesses, served beneath shade-providing tents.
After lunch, the excitement was building as volunteers and staff prepared to announce the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medal winners in each of the age divisions (20-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51 and up) for the six events.
Many of the smiling winners rushed to receive their medals from Cooper, raising their hands triumphantly to the sky as they stood upon the traditional tiered podium and posed for the cameras.
Bean bag throw medalists included Jeremy Mosley, Stephanie Hanes, Kylie Gant, Carl Brown, Danny Davis, Kathy Cooper, Kit Pogue, Michael Padgett, Charles Hayde, Roy Lee Johnson, Dignan Crosby and Kathleen Corbey.
Walk and pop winners were Greanda Foster, Kit Pogue, Carl Brown, Judy Clark, Darrell Eldridge, Skeeter Tucker, Roy Lee Johnson, Patricia Johnson and Louise Evans.
Energetic 20 meter walk medalists included David Lacey, Ken Walker, Danyell Carter, Randy Paterson, Fred Bogen, David Casiell, Sammie Bowdoin, John Heaton, Linda Williams, Ras Williams, Jerry Elmore and Kenny Smith.
Those who took home medals for the standing long jump were Ken Walker, Lisa Owens, Larry Castleberry, Jason Ingels, Doyle Andrews, Rabran Davis, Dolly Klingworth, Donna Miller, Kenny Smith and John Holloway.
Top pitchers in the softball throw were Mack Johnson, David Lacey, Lance Helms, Fred Bogen, Lorenzo Salter, Vickie Bryant, Sammy Pugh, J.B. Herbert, Sammy Bowdoin, Ray Magwood, Walter Griffin and Mary Sue Edwards.
The fleet of feet' for the 50-meter dash were Alphonso Casrell, Aresha Warren, Ray Kelly, Dolly Klingworth, Rabran Davis, Ira Boyd, Robert Corbitte and Raymond Magwood.
Every handicapped athlete received a special yellow ribbon for their efforts in Thursday's games.
Butler Activity Center Director Sheila Martin extended a big "thank you" to the community as a whole and to the school system in particular for the support of the Tri-County Special Olympics.
"Greenville was terrific in its support.
So many businesses gave us something to use today n balloons, flags, food, ice, tables, you name it," Martin said, pointing out a sheet full of sponsors' names.
"The high school kids and the GHS staff have been wonderful, also Steve Davison and the Civitans.
We appreciate EVERYONE who had a part in this event," she commented. "It's been at least 15 years since we were involved in something like this. And they [the consumers] had such fun.
We hope to make this Tri-Center Olympics an annual competition," Martin added.
Janet Cooper echoed Martin's sentiments, saying,
"The people of Greenville have been so wonderful in helping us today.
It's really hard a lot of times for many people to reach out to those with mental handicaps. If they can just have life experiences along the way with people like these consumers, it helps to overcome these fears.
"When people get to know [the handicapped]," Cooper said, "they are so much more accepting of those who are different.'"
That afternoon, the participants, many physically tired but still riding that emotional "high", filed out of the stadium to the waiting vans. One of Greenville's medalists paused to proudly show off his medallion to some of the staff and volunteers.
He beamed as they clapped him on the back and said, "Way to go!"
Case Manager Brogden later commented, "You know, some of these folks will still be wearing their medals every day a month from now n it means THAT much to them."
The 2001 Tri-County Special Olympics are over; the tents and tables, gone, the grandstands, empty.
The good memories and valuable lessons learned for those involved, however, will remain.