Columbia County school board member Mildred Blackburn and her daughter, Betsy Thompson, ate lunch Friday on a wooden bench near the field at Greenbrier High School's stadium.
They had only positive things to say about the perfect weather and the Special Olympics event taking place in front of them.
Thompson's son, Kevin, a 6-year-old student at Blue Ridge Elementary, won a blue ribbon in a soccer event.
"The thing that's so cool about this -- everybody gets something," Thompson said. "Everybody gets an award."
Kevin was one of more than 200 special-needs students from throughout the area participating in Friday's events. More than 350 high school students volunteered, and each athlete was paired with at least one volunteer.
Two volunteers escorted Kevin to his events.
"He's in heaven," Thompson said. "He's got two beautiful girls."
Athletes participated in 13 different events, ranging from races to soccer to bocce. Top finishers from each event qualified for the State Summer Games held in Atlanta in May.
Everyone was awarded ribbons. Volunteers said the students' reactions to their prizes were one of the benefits of helping run the event.
"It's just so rewarding," Greenbrier teacher Debbie Seymour said. "They get so excited. Even if they get seventh place, it's like a gold medal."
Seymour has coordinated the volunteers for each of the event's 14 years. Any high school student in the county could volunteer as long as they had a record of good behavior. Teachers said one of the highlights was seeing how the volunteers were affected.
"It really kind of gives them a different perspective on things when they work with these kids who have to struggle to do what they take for granted," Seymour said. "A lot of them come back with a whole better attitude."
Seymour said it was neat to see some of the participants from the first events, who were in kindergarten more than a decade ago, still coming out to compete as high schoolers.
Evans High student Jon Lambert was among those who have a long record of competing in the area Special Olympics. His father, Pete, said his son had been competing the past seven years.
"He's doing better this year," Pete Lambert said as he watched Jon participate in bocce. "Last year, he wasn't in the circle."
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