DOBSON — Dreary weather didn’t dampen any spirits at this year’s Special Olympics spring games.
Hundreds of athletes and thousands of supporters turned out at Surry Central High School Friday morning for Surry County’s annual Special Olympics event. Rain drove the event, which was initially to take place at the high school’s athletic complexes outside, into the gym at Central high school.
Surry County Parks and Recreation Director Daniel White said he, his staff and many volunteers worked long hours to make the changes necessary to bring the event indoors. However, the change had little effect on the 300 or so athletes who took part.
“The real key is that they all have fun,” said White.
Of course, White said some changes had to be made to accommodate the event indoors. Nerf-type balls took the place of softballs, running events were shortened and the long jump became a standing long jump event.
White said the logistics of moving the event inside were tough, but the cooperation at Central helped make the event go off without a hitch.
“They’ve been so good to us here at Central,” explained White. “They’ve opened their doors to us. They’ve basically shut down operations to accommodate us.”
Surry Central students also acted as “buddies” for athletes, helping usher athletes with special needs of all ages to their events.
The atmosphere was festive as White declared the games open, the Special Olympics flame was lit and contingents from schools and other special needs services entities were introduced.
Central student Ben Journey stood alongside Sheriff Graham Atkinson to light the flame, which was done in a non-traditional manner. With the event inside, an open flame was out of the question, but that didn’t get in the way of Ben’s moment.
As Ben and Atkinson held a torch to the “flame,” a fan was turned on to blow yellow and black tissue paper toward the sky.
Ben has autism, and his mother, Donna Journey, said he was “ecstatic” to have the opportunity to light the flame.
While Ben may be limited in some aspects of life, Donna Journey said he excels in others. Ben is quite the guitar player, and he has recorded songs and plays at local churches. Recently, he turned 21 years old, and his gift was an opportunity to go to Vince Gill’s home and play guitar with the country music legend.
White said Special Olympics isn’t possible without the involvement of many volunteers, corporate sponsors and the community.
“This is a blessing,” said White. “I have the best job in the world because of you guys. You all make my job easy.”
White wasn’t all talk, however. He presented Tanya Davis with the 2016 Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year Award and Junior Inman with his Unsung Hero Award.
Surry Central presented the Special Olympics committee with a check for more than $7,000. A check from Phillips-Van Heusen Company exceeded $8,000. Teams from Weyerhaeuser, Walmart and Carolina Handling also supported the event.
The most important players in making Special Olympics possible is the athletes, said White. Their work did not go unrecognized. Jared Watts, who participates in nearly every Special Olympics event, was named the athlete of the year.
Dylan O’Neal presented the Special Olympics flag, Rose Hodges led the packed gymnasium in the Pledge of Allegiance and Nehemias Fernandez delivered the Special Olympics oath.
After the Surry Central chorus sang the Star Spangled Banner, White declared the games open.
With that, athletes began an annual tradition of competition, activity, camaraderie and fun.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.