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Day for champions

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Summer Special Olympics draws local athletes

By Alice Du Pont

More than 800 athletes, volunteers and family members attended the Summer Special Olympics Games on March 7 at East Gadsden High School’s track field. Ranging in age from 8 to 18, the athletes participated in running, jumping and throwing events, trying to earn a spot on the local team, which will compete this summer at the statewide games in Orlando.

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Grand Marshals of the Parade of Athletes were Exceptional Student Education Director Ellen Bryant, 1974-1993; and Margaret Pinson, Special Olympics coordinator 1992-2013.  This year’s games were a celebration in memory of Jimmy Lee Davis, Special Olympics coordinator 1972-1992.

Pinson, who announced she will retire after last week’s games, said the games have meant a lot to her and to the students who participate.

“It is the only recognition that some of these athletes get — the only time they feel they are worthwhile and they can see their growth from year to year. They challenge themselves as well as us challenging them,” Pinson said.

“For many of these athletes, the challenges they face throughout their (lives) will never end. But at least for one day, everyone can feel like champions,” she said.

School Superintendent Reginald James said earning the Marilyn Grigsby Award in 2102 was an indication and validation that the students, teachers, athletes and volunteers have historically supported Special Olympics. The award is given annually for sustained involvement, service, guidance, expertise and project management for more than five years or more that greatly impacted the program through volunteers and athletes.

The entrance torch was carried by members of the Stewart Street Elementary School relay team: Kenshardrique Dennard, Tyderrious Dickens, Deric Young and DeQuavious Charleston.

Students from East Gadsden, West Gadsden and Robert F. Munroe volunteered as fans.

“They’ve done a great job. They were paired up with the high school students and they’ve stayed with them throughout the day. Some of them have really become friends. They take them wherever they need to go to compete or get a snack or something to drink. We also have a large number of family members here to cheer the athletes on,” said Sharon Thomas, current exceptional student education director.