Special Olympics athletes show off at local meet

Published 12:28 am Friday, April 2, 2010

NATCHEZ — In Tommie Jones’ opinion, Thursday was a special day for the Natchez community.

The Area 7 director for Special Olympics Mississippi, together with Natchez High School and a host of volunteers, put on a Special Olympics track and field meet. The meet included sports like bocce, softball throwing and the 100-meter dash, and hosted roughly 150 athletes, Jones said.

“This is special for the community, because it opens their eyes to the fact that these kids have skills and ambitions to move them around in life,” Jones said. “This helps them develop socially, mentally and physically.”

Athletes from Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilkinson and Amite counties made use of the new track at Natchez High School, and were awarded ribbons based on how they finished in each event.

“It’s a sports meet, just like any other team would have a sports meet,” sponsor Ellen Saunders said.

A number of organizations helped the Special Olympics put on the meet, including Walmart, McDonald’s, Key Rehab, Sunshine Shelter, the Civitan Club and Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

“This doesn’t cost us anything,” Ellen Saunders said. “Natchez lets us use the track, Walmart provides snacks, McDonald’s feeds the athletes lunch, and the Civitan Club provides the ribbons.

“We only have one fundraiser a year, a blow-it-out golf tournament we’re doing in May.”

Several athletes on hand Thursday are also preparing to compete in the national Special Olympics event this July in Nebraska. Sadia Saunders, daughter of Ellen Saunders, said she was excited to represent Adams County this summer.

“It’s special for me,” Sadie Saunders, 24, said. “My mom works me hard. She gets me out and practices (with me).”

Despite it being a big deal for her, Sadie Saunders said she’ not too nervous about it.

“I’ve prepared well,” Sadie Saunders said. “I’m sort of excited. I want to get first place.”

Sadie Saunders said she would be competing in bocce this summer. Angelina Jackson, meanwhile, will compete in softball throwing at the national meet.

“I put a lot of work in,” Jackson, 15, said. “Going makes me feel good. It makes me happy.”

Jones said the volunteers offered their help Thursday for a wide variety of reasons.

“Some have kids that are special, and others just came and asked to help out,” Jones said. “I think (everyone here is) affiliated with someone that’s special, so they’re connected to this in that way.”

Walt Wilson, a respiratory care teacher at Co-Lin, said his course requires community service, which his students get credit for by helping in the Special Olympics.

“We’ve been doing this for seven years,” Wilson said. “As a teacher, I want my students to see how lucky they are. They complain about how tough my program is, but coming out here gives them a whole new perspective.”