Editor's Note: Special Olympics organizers asked the Citizen to only identify the Olympians by their first names.
CONYERS - Special Olympics Rockdale athletes have been hard at work this summer.
For a few hours every week for about the last eight weeks, athletes in the Masters age group, those who are 22 years old and older, have been practicing for the Special Olympics Masters Bowling Tournament, which will take place July 18 to 22 in Savannah.
About 30 athletes from Rockdale and Newton counties are scheduled to attend the event with several volunteers and chaperones.
"This is probably the most athletes we've ever taken bowling" in six years, said CeCe Hart, chairwoman for the Special Olympics Rockdale management team.
At the tournament, more than 1,000 athletes from Georgia will compete in singles games and partners competitions for ribbons and metals.
But Hart said those who participate in the event aren't always thinking about winning, even though they practice hard beforehand.
"In Special Olympics, when they go on trips, it's not just about the sports," she said. "It's a self-esteem thing, social entertainment, problem solving and getting along with others."
The athletes also look forward to seeing the sites around the town when they aren't competing.
"We do as much as we possibly can when they go with us," Hart said. "And we'll have a dance on Saturday."
The event is free to the athletes and the family members who go with them, as it is funded through Special Olympics by donations, fundraising and other funding.
Special Olympics Rockdale, which started its current program six years ago, has grown since its inception to about 275 athletes and continues to grow.
"We intend to stay here," Hart said.
The local organization offers such sports as swimming, golf, bowling, track and field, softball, basketball, bocce ball and bowling and is starting floor hockey.
Because of the growth, the organization is looking for more volunteers.
"We have excellent volunteers now, but we're always needing more," Hart said. "We need volunteers for everything."
Generally, volunteers are parents or family members of special-needs residents or they are residents who like to do volunteer work or help with Special Olympics, she said.
Hart said the responsibilities of a volunteer vary depending on the sport they help with, but they often assist with athletes in wheelchairs, chaperoning and other general activities.
Anyone interested in joining Special Olympics Rockdale can call Hart at 770-378-1318 or 770-385-9134. All athletes must be mentally or physically challenged and over the age of 6 to join.
More information about Special Olympics in Georgia, such as volunteering, is available at www.specialolympicsga.org.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.