The annual 2013 Columbia County Schools Special Olympics at Greenbrier High School featured more than 200 athletes with close to 600 volunteers, including 450 from the high school, and exemplified its theme of “hustle and heart.”
“Today is just all for the kids and to let them have a good time,” said Greenbrier’s Brooke Mackelburg. “It’s a privilege to volunteer.”
Mimi Tom, a school system recreation therapist and one of four local coordinators of the games, said preparations for the annual event start early.
“It’s something we started at the beginning of the school year,” Tom said. “As soon as school starts we start getting ready.”
Augusta Prep girls volleyball head coach Rich Bland’s 10-year-old daughter Ruby, who attends Riverside Elementary, is one of the reasons preparations have to start well in advance.
“It’s an exciting day,” Bland said. “Ruby’s been excited about this for two months.”
The athletes, ranging from ages 5 to 22, participated in events including 50- and 100-meter dashes, soccer dribble, bocce ball, kick and score, and the running long jump and each took home a ribbon for their effort.
Each athlete found things to enjoy about the day.
“I like making beat box noises, rapping, hanging out with friends and the long jump,” said 15-year-old Jalen Abney from Grovetown High School.
With Abney was his buddy, Grovetown junior Desmond Sampson, who joined the school’s buddy club this year.
“I just like helping people,” said Sampson, who said there are people with special needs in his family. “Every time I see Jalen he’s smiling. He inspires me to get through the day.”
Horatio Maldonado from Riverside Elementary was intense about one event in particular.
“This year I’m excited about the 100-meter dash,” he said.
Typifying the spirit was Wil Sanders from Evans Middle School, who has been a competitor in the past but was volunteering this year, running results sheets to the press box.
“I’ve been waiting for three years for a chance to volunteer,” Sanders said. “I like helping out. It gives me satisfaction (that) doing it doesn’t.”