After working this job for a while, reporters often have a pretty good idea of what we’re looking at before we even go to an event.
One festival is pretty much like another, so the challenge is finding a different angle to make it at least marginally interesting to the reader. But you can be sure that at every one of them “a good time was had by all.”
Your run-of-the-mill breaking news story is pretty much the same as the last one, and covering it is simply a matter getting the facts to write. It’s all about who did what, when; and what happened, where. The rest is just specifics related to the incident in question.
And there isn’t too much difference between one municipal function and another.
But we go, because our job is all about minding the people’s business.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s refreshing to go to something and have your socks blown off. It doesn’t happen that often to this jaded reporter, and when it does it’s like a breath of fresh air.
Which is exactly what happened the other day as I pulled into North Surry High School for the county’s 2012 Special Olympics event.
Now, I’ve probably covered the Special Olympics a dozen times over the years in at least two states (I think it might be three, but am not sure), and have never seen an event that was so well put together in my life!
Pulling into the parking lot, I was in a “ho-hum, here we go again” frame of mind. I had an idea of the kinds of photos I wanted, and where I needed to stand to get ‘em.
Been there. Done that. Never got a T-shirt.
At least that’s what I thought, until I closed my car door and looked down onto the track.
“Man, this ain’t going to be your average Special Olympics story!” I suddenly realized.
Walking onto the field, I was amazed at how many groups went out of their way to make it a day to remember for the athletes.
There were inflatables, games, motorcycles and groups everywhere you looked. A guy had a really cute dog on the field, letting anyone who wanted pet it. (The dog could jump up, spin in a circle and land. It was something to see!)
It seemed like pretty much everyone in the county took time out of their schedule to be there and make it a day to remember.
A crowd that had to be in the thousands were in attendance, cheering on every competitor with one voice. The sincerity with which they applauded these athletes when they stepped onto the field literally brought a smile to my face.
I didn’t hear one snide or cutting remark, and trust me, I was listening for ‘em.
Surry County put on a Special Olympics event that was something to behold, and I’m afraid I don’t possess the skills necessary to convey how great it really was.
But one thing never changes when you cover the Special Olympics — the athletes themselves.
One reason I like having the chance to be in the presence of these competitors is there are so few opportunities to see pure, unfiltered joy and happiness.
There were no agendas. No political motives. Not one iota of mistrust or suspicion among them.
Looking at the faces of these brave athletes reminds me of how much innocence I’ve lost over the years.
I saw smiles so wide it made my face hurt. I witnessed the wide-eyed innocence of human beings who simply want to give love and be loved.
A fellow rarely gets the chance to see that kind of stuff these days.
I’m sure I once possessed that kind of outlook, but it’s been so long ago that I can’t remember. These days I’m more often than not skeptical, cynical and yes, jaded. There. I said it.
But for those few hours covering this year’s Special Olympics, I went back those bygone days of child-like hope and joy, if only for a moment.
I don’t know if I can ever get that innocence, trust and optimism back (and it would probably ruin my career if I did), but it was an honor to be in their presence, and spend a few hours remembering how I used to view the world.
Keith Strange is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.