Lee County hosted its annual Special Olympics track and field event at the Opelika High School Track Thursday.
The Lee County Special Olympics program is in its 40th year. More than 85 athletes competed in the bowling tournament and 160 competed in the track and field meet. The gymnastics meet will be held on April 22 in Auburn.
“Special Olympics offers quality competition to special needs athletes in a variety of sports, including bowling, golf, gymnastics and track and field,” said Alison Hall, the community programs director. “Not only do athletes have a chance to train and specialize in one or more sports, but they also have a chance to improve their health, enjoy a great social network and prove to themselves and others that they can set and reach a goal.”
Four different divisions competed in school age and adult divisions in events such as the softball throw, the long jump, the 100-meter walk and the 25-meter wheelchair race. Each school was represented with a different color t-shirt and marched in with their banner for the opening ceremony.
“I won first place in the 200 meter dash,” said Mary Helen Patrick, a competitor from Opelika. “I was excited. I competed in the softball throw, and I think I got first place in that too.”
Other winners included Patricia Defee who took first place in the tennis ball throw and Emily Belk who won in the 100-meter walk.
“The Lee County Special Olympics program is run completely by volunteers,” Hall said. “Practice and event are all coordinated by dedicated volunteers and coaches here in our community along with dedicated Special Education teachers in our school systems. This helps to ensure that our athletes have a lot of fun at a quality event.”
Family and friends came out to support these extraordinary people for a day of fun. Each child was awarded a ribbon and a pat on the back for their hard work. The ribbons were presented by the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen.
“Auburn and Alison Hall have been doing this event for a couple of years now,” said Jackie Zook, assistant to Hall. “With careful coordination and lots of volunteers, the Special Olympics is a huge success.”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had many volunteers at the event. They started helping out at the previous year’s Olympics.
“We show up the day of and let them tell us what needs to be done,” said John Cox, a junior in pre-pharmacy. “We write names on ribbons, give out t-shirts and call out the events. It is a small contribution to an event that brings a bit of joy to the lives of these special people.”
A state-wide meet is held in Troy each year. Hall modeled the Lee County Olympics based on it.
“What many of these people need is just an encouraging word or a helping hand,” Zook said. “That is exactly what the Special Olympics is all about. We just want to show our love and appreciation for these special people who bring joy to our lives.”