Though postponed Friday because of the threat of storms, nothing rained on the 2012 Columbia County Schools Special Olympics parade held Monday.
Big smiles prevailed throughout Wolf Den Stadium at Greenbrier High School, home to the county’s Special Olympics program. No gauge could assess who enjoyed themselves more: the 220 athletes or the more than 400 volunteers from Greenbrier, Evans and Lakeside high schools.
“I love it,” said Evans High sophomore Kristin Walker, who volunteered to help at the games for the first time this year. “I like just watching them be happy and give them (special needs athletes) high-fives.”
Debbie Seymour, the high school volunteer coordinator for the Columbia County games, teaches at Greenbrier High and began helping with Special Olympics when it started at the school 16 years ago.
“They ask about volunteering on the first day of school,” Seymour said of students wishing to help.
The athletes, ranging from 5 to 22 years old, participated in a number of events run by special education teachers from across the county. Events included the softball throw, 50- and 100-meter dashes, soccer dribble, bocce ball, kick and score and the running long jump. Athletes train throughout the year, and then are grouped according to their abilities and ages. No matter where they place, each athlete receives a ribbon.
The athletes started the event with opening ceremonies and a parade around the stadium’s track while holding signs and banners to signify their schools. After the lighting of the torch, the games began.
Greenbrier senior Thomas Brown, a football and basketball standout for the school, was a buddy to Wil Sanders.
“Getting to interact with him is real fun,” said Brown, a second-year volunteer. “He’s been talking about football and basketball all day long.”
Robbie Ripkey, a 16-year-old Evans High student, started competing in the games while still in prekindergarten. He paired off for a second time this year with schoolmate John Stevens.
Stevens said he loved Ripkey’s enthusiasm, and Ripkey was happy Stevens was with him again.
“My buddy is awesome,” Ripkey said after completing the softball throw.
Ripkey’s mother, Diana Ripkey-Goodman, said her son looks forward to this day every year.
“He was so excited he went to bed early last night,” she said.
Mimi Tom, a school system recreation therapist and one of four local coordinators of the games, said most students look forward to the Special Olympics.
“This is like our Super Bowl,” Tom said. “We spend a year getting ready for this big day. We train with our athletes in our (adaptive) P.E. classes, and it’s pretty much a year-round plan.”