Bringing out the best
Many gather to participate in Special Olympics

CONYERS - Students in Rockdale County's Special Olympics had a lot to celebrate Friday. Not only was it the last day of school before spring break, but the athletes also got to participate in the annual Special Olympics track and field competitions.

Friday morning, about 250 participants, from school age to those into their 40s, took the field at Rockdale County High School stadium.

"This is the highlight of the season - it's our largest participatory event," said Tom McPike, manager of therapeutic recreational services in Rockdale.

The Special Olympics teams competed in several walking and running events, a tennis ball and softball throw and a wheelchair race.

"Obviously this helps in their physical fitness and health benefits, but more importantly, it helps them socially and with their achievement values ... and lets them be part of a team," McPike said. "They get a little nervous, but they are very positive about it - it's not cutthroat; everybody cheers for everybody else."

For the last few months, the athletes have been practicing at their schools or day centers at least once a week for the event.

"This helps them train and work towards goals," McPike said. "Then they get to perform and get recognized with ribbons and by their peers. ... It's a very positive event."

About 50 volunteers aided the participants and even more students, friends and family members cheered on the athletes from the stands.

"It was really cool," said CeCe Hart, chairwoman of Rockdale's Special Olympics management team. "They cheered everybody on and had signs they made."

She said that kind of energy helps those competing.

"They always like people to cheer for them," Hart said. "It was a really good time."

In April and May, the athletes will compete in the area competitions between Gwinnett, DeKalb and Newton counties. Later in May, athletes will compete in state competitions.

Rockdale's Special Olympians compete throughout the year in a number of events, including softball, basketball, golf, swimming, bocce, bowling, volleyball and track and field.

Residents interested in becoming involved with Rockdale's Special Olympics teams should call McPike at 770-278-7249.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.