Area students compete in annual Special Olympics

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

David &uot;D.J.&uot; Jones suited up in khakis and a long-sleeved polo shirt for basketball Friday morning.

Standing on the edge of the court, he shifted nervously, barely acknowledging his teammates.

But nearly every time he got the ball, he made a basket or came close.

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And when it came time to give awards at the Special Olympics tournament, D.J. &045;&045; a nonverbal autistic student &045;&045; took a brief turn at the microphone, speaking two words.

&uot;That was amazing,&uot; his teacher Tommie Jones said later, her face beaming. &uot;They just kind of open up.&uot;

In Special Olympics, the victories that count are not those on the court.

Cheering each other on

&uot;Go Chris!&uot;

&uot;Go Ken!&uot;

The cheering section for Natchez High’s teams was exuberant as several of the boys got in practice shots on the court. Kendrick &uot;Ken&uot; Dixon returned the favor by blowing a kiss to the classmates cheering them on.

Students from Natchez and Jefferson County high schools, as well as participants in LifeSkills, took part in the Area 7 Special Olympics basketball tournament Friday morning.

With stands filled with students, teachers, parents and other supporters, the enthusiasm for the players &045;&045; and among the players &045;&045; was high.

The students are affectionate with everyone. Familiar faces &045;&045; and even strangers &045;&045; are greeted with the gift of huge smiles, pats on the back and handshakes.

Teacher Patty Killelea got kisses on the cheek for wishing her students luck.

&uot;I don’t care what they do, they’re cheering each other on,&uot; said teacher Sonya Gooden. &uot;No matter whether they win or lose, they have fun.&uot;

And their teachers encourage that support. From the sidelines, they cheer every effort, whether the ball goes in the basket or not.

And when her team played another school, Killelea cheered the other players when she noticed they didn’t have anyone on the sidelines.

Circle of supporters

Parents and friends are often in the stands cheering the students as well.

Roosevelt Johnson was on the sidelines all morning Friday, waiting for daughter Rosekita to take her turn on the court.

&uot;I go just about everywhere she goes,&uot; Johnson said.

The Special Olympics athletes just returned from the skiing competition in North Carolina. Today, students will go to Jackson for a swim meet.

Such trips are a great learning experience for his daughter, Johnson said.

&uot;She gets a lot of fun and enjoyment,&uot; he said of Rosekita. &uot;And she learns a lot, just being around other folks.&uot;

Minster Freddie Parker, pastor of True Bibleway Apostolic Deliverance Temple, was in the audience Friday to help support one of the members of his church.

&uot;He’s been telling me about how he was going to play ball,&uot; Parker said. Attending just his second Special Olympics competition, Parker’s face was lit up with pride for the athletes.

&uot;It’s really touching,&uot; he said. &uot;The hugs, the handshakes … It’s really amazing. They’re really blessed.&uot;

Special Olympics often relies on the help of the community to pay for trips like the one to North Carolina.

And Jones said she was grateful to Natchez Mayor Phillip West for making it possible for the teams to use Martin Gym for their tournament Friday morning.

Special teachers

But perhaps one of the greatest supports the students have are their teachers.

Jones &045;&045; whose cheers were loudest as she gave out ribbons to every participant &045;&045; who has taught special education at Natchez High for 25 years.

She has been involved with Special Olympics for about as long. She is now Area 7 director, which includes Adams County and surrounding areas.

Jones believes Special Olympics helps build self-esteem in her students, no matter whether they win or lose.

&uot;They feel like they’re number one,&uot; she said. &uot;That’s what I tell them.&uot;

Jones has a special bond not only with her students but with their parents as well. They nominated her this year as a Natchez Democrat &uot;Unsung Hero.&uot;

&uot;She’ll be there ’til she can’t go to school,&uot; said Johnson, Rosekita’s father.