Hundreds of athletes compete at Special Olympics on Wednesday at GSW

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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AMERICUS – Approximately 200 athletes from Sumter County and the surrounding counties descended on Georgia Southwestern State University Wednesday to compete in the Area 11 Special Olympics.

“It is the Area 11 Special Olympics Spring 2024,” said Michele Mckie, the Director of the event. “We have four events going on. We have softball skills, soccer skills, flag football skills, Bocce Ball individual skills and team events.” Mckie went on to say that the participants also had an opportunity to participate in the Special Olympic Village, where the athletes could get involved in sensory activities and blowing bubbles, face painting, coloring and other ways for them to have fun.

A Schley County athlete is seen here throwing a ball as part of the softball throwing skill competition.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

There were many volunteers who helped to make the Special Olympics Spring 2024 go well, such as numerous GSW student-athletes and GSW Special Education teacher candidates who helped to organize and facilitate the day. “We also collaborate with our GSW Athletics Department who is helping to be scorekeepers and they’re leading softball and soccer skills,” Mckie said. “We also have our College of Education Health and P.E candidates who are doing the Bocce Ball and Flag Football competitions. They’ve organized that and they are working with some of the other athletes who are scoring for them. We have students from the Jimmy Carter Leadership Program. We have students from the Greek fraternities and sororities. We also have many more volunteers that are helping us to lead the day.”

An athlete is seen here running the bases as part of the softball skills competition.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Mckie went on to say that close to 200 athletes from the surrounding area came to participate in the Special Olympics Spring 2024.

For many of the GSW student-athletes and coaches who volunteered to take part in the Special Olympics, they were able to get a sense of joy by seeing these kids compete and have a good time. “It’s a great thing,” said Trent Justice, a member of the GSW Baseball Team. “Not a lot of these kids get to have the opportunities that we have. It’s just awesome to see that they can come out here and have a fun time and enjoy being out here with all of us.”

A Dooly County athlete shown here doing a running back drill as part of the flag football skills competition.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Natalie Herrera, a member of the GSW Softball Team, was enjoying volunteering at the softball running, throwing and hitting skills competition. For her, the smiles of all the athletes meant everything to her. “It means everything. It’s super special to be out here and help out and see everybody smiling and having a good time,” Herrera said. “It’s bigger than us and it’s just a beautiful thing.”

A Dooly County athlete seen here competing in the soccer skills competition.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Lars Nilsen, a member of the GSW men’s basketball team, also volunteered in the event. “I love this!,” Nilsen said. “For them to come out here and have one and us supporting them, it just means a lot to me and us and especially us as a program.”

Some coaches also volunteered in helping make sure the athletes had a great time.

One of those coaches was Josh McDonald, the head baseball coach at GSW. “It’s always good to be out here,” McDonald said. “Like I told our guys last night before we came out today is this is one of the biggest days of the year for them, so we try to help make it special for them. It’s always good to see them come out and enjoy their time and have some competition.”

Near the end of the competition, many of the athletes earned ribbons and enjoyed standing on the podium as their names were called. All in all, it was a great time had by all.