Nine-year-old Josh Cook didn’t want to slow down during Thursday’s Area 11 Special Olympics.
It took two high school volunteer buddies and a teacher to keep up with the Ingomar Attendance Center student.
“I like running,” he said before he headed off for more fun around the Pontotoc High School track.
The annual event is a highlight for Cook and other special education students, said Ingomar special education teacher Beth Boyd.
“If they’ve been before,” she said, “they walk in the first day of school asking about Special Olympics.”
Thursday’s Special Olympics brought together 260 eager athletes ages 3 to adult from 16 schools in five counties. The students with disabilities compete in events including the 25-meter assisted walk, long jump, 100-meter dash, shotput, softball throw, basketball skills, bocce and horseshoes.
“With athletes, coaches, volunteers and workers, there’ll be about 600 people here,” said Patricia Holcomb, Pontotoc District Student Services coordinator, who organizes the event.
The Wal-Mart Distribution Center in New Albany sends the biggest single group of volunteers.
“It just gives us a way to give back to the community,” Scott Uithoven, one of 60 volunteers from the center, said as he checked off participants in the 100-meter dash. “It’s a good time for everyone.”
For kids with disabilities, the Special Olympics is a unique opportunity.
“He gets to participate in activities he doesn’t normally get to,” said Sylvia Jones of New Albany, who was standing in line with her 11-year-old son, Tyler Berry, to collect his ribbon. “He’s able to be around other children and compete.”
The event winners who are 8 and older also have the opportunity to advance to the state Special Olympics held in Biloxi, Holcomb said. Area 11 can take about 70 students to the state competition, which often allows some second-place winners to go along, too.
Tupelo High School senior Harrison Poole had an academic interest in Thursday’s event. He was taping some of the events to go along with his senior project that focuses on the importance of fitness for special-needs kids. He was inspired by his sister, Sarah Grace, who has Down syndrome.
“She’s really enjoyed it,” Poole said.
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