Special Olympics set for Friday

Published 5:29 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For nearly 150 of Butler County’s students, the 2017 Special Olympics is about much more than fun and games.

Willie Thornton, special education coordinator for Butler County Schools, has been involved with the annual Special Olympics in some capacity for going on a decade.

And, maybe more so than any one before it, this year’s occasion has his students—as well as the surrounding community—excited.

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“Every year, students give their all in being able to showcase their talents in different areas,” Thornton said. “Our theme also makes us very excited about what’s going on.  Our theme this year for the 2017 Special Olympics is ‘some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they are determined to.’”

The Special Olympics’ origins began more than 50 years ago when Eunice Kennedy Shriver (President John F. Kennedy’s sister) decided to take action after witnessing the unfair systematic treatment of people with disabilities.

Her vision coalesced into a summer day camp for young people with disabilities.  With many students’ lives often being defined by what their disability prevents them from doing, the camp’s primary concern was highlighting what they could do.  That camp eventually grew into the Special Olympics.

“I will always say that we give homage and credit to Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was given a vision for helping students with disabilities,” Thornton said. “She really made them feel very important about their accomplishments and ability level.”

Thornton added that the Special Olympics is hardly the only occasion where Butler County students receive positive reinforcement, however.

“Our students with disabilities are really empowered every day through our teachers in the classroom and administrators at their schools,” he said.  “My motto is that I have yet to meet a student who is at-risk.  They aren’t at-risk, but at-promise.”

Friday’s gauntlet of events will see students competing among their peers in arenas such as softball, wheelchair races, basketball, 50 and 100-yard dashes, relay races, sack races and football.

Students representing all six public schools in the Butler County will participate, and this year they will once again be joined by an estimated 150 students from Bullock County.

The Greenville Police Department will reprise their years-long role in the ritual Olympic torch run from the department to Tiger Stadium.  Once officers carry the torch to the field, student participants will run a customary lap around the field before taking the torch to its final resting place for the duration of the games.

Thornton said that it’s thanks to the Greenville Police Department and countless other organizations—including Super Foods, Alabama Power, the Butler County Retired Teachers Association, Camellia Communications and countless others—that the annual occasion is a consistent success.

“This is truly a community effort,” Thornton said. “I can truly say this is an exciting year for the students, parents, teachers and the community. If you’ve never had an opportunity to come out and watch the Special Olympics, I encourage you to do so.  You’ll be glad you did.”

The games will begin at 8:30 a.m.