Originally created 03/24/01

Special Olympics puts athletes in spotlight



Chris Powell practiced all year for a blue ribbon.

Running in the 50-meter dash, Chris crossed the finish line far ahead of his competitors Friday at Columbia County's annual Special Olympics.

"I just like doing it," said Chris, who pinned his blue ribbon to the waistband of his jogging pants. "I love the events and like to do everything."

Chris, who went to the state Special Olympics last year, is a member of Greenbrier High School's track team. Maybe he had the home field advantage, because Greenbrier also played host to the county's Special Olympics this year.

For Cathie Justin, Columbia County's director of special services, Chris' victory underscores the purpose of the event.

"It focuses on the kids and their needs, but it also highlights their abilities and what they can do," she said.

More than 200 athletes participated in this year's olympics, said Anne Comer, a recreational therapist who helps coordinate the event. The students are divided into two groups according to their level of activity and compete with others in their group in such games as the softball throw, spot kick, kick and score, running long jump, 50 meter dash, bat for distance, kick for distance, slam dunk, putt for accuracy, target toss and 100 meter dash.

"They look forward to this all year," Ms. Comer said. "At their schools, they might only have one or two to compete against, but here they get to compete with many others of like ability, so it's a true competition for them."

There are more than 1,800 children with special needs in the Columbia County School System.

"Today is their day to shine," Ms. Justin said.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.