There were only winners at the 2012 Columbia County Schools Special Olympics held Monday at Greenbrier High School.
Special-needs athletes, ranging from 5 to 22 years old, participated in a number of events run by special-education teachers from across the county.
Events included the softball throw, 50- and 100-meter dashes, soccer dribble, bocce ball, kick and score, and the running long jump.
Athletes were grouped according to their abilities and ages. No matter where they placed, each received a ribbon.
Big smiles prevailed throughout Greenbrier’s Wolf Den Stadium, home to the county’s Special Olympics program.
No gauge could assess who enjoyed themselves more: the 220 athletes or 400-plus volunteers from Greenbrier, Evans and Lakeside high schools.
“I love it,” said Evans High sophomore Kristin Walker, who volunteered to help at the games for the first time this year. “I like just watching them be happy and give them high-fives.”
The athletes started the event with opening ceremonies and a parade around the stadium’s track while holding signs and banners to signify their schools. After the lighting of the torch, the games began.
Mimi Tom, a school system recreation therapist and one of four local coordinators of the games, said most students look forward to the Special Olympics.
“This is like our Super Bowl,” Tom said. “We spend a year getting ready for this big day. We train with our athletes in our (adaptive) P.E. classes, and it’s pretty much a year-round plan.”
Debbie Seymour, the high school volunteer coordinator for the Columbia County games, teaches at Greenbrier High and began helping with Special Olympics when it started at the school 16 years ago.
“They ask about volunteering on the first day of school,” Seymour said of students wishing to help.
Robbie Ripkey, a 16-year-old Evans High student, started competing in the games while still in pre-kindergarten. He paired off for a second time this year with schoolmate John Stevens.
Stevens said he loved Ripkey’s enthusiasm, and Ripkey was happy Stevens was with him again.
“My buddy is awesome,” Ripkey said after completing the softball throw.
Ripkey’s mother, Diana Ripkey-Goodman, said her son looks forward to this day every year.
“He was so excited, he went to bed early last night,” she said.