Game On

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ROME TOWNSHIP — The rains did come and umbrellas went up, but wet, gray skies on Tuesday did nothing to dampen the cheers, shouts, claps and grins that this year’s Special Olympics brought to the crowd of athletes, their teachers and parents.

It was the first Olympics for 6-year-old Shawn Riggs, who easily won his

first race with his mother, Melissa Riggs, eagerly waiting with camera in hand.

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“This has shown him how to experience himself with others,” Riggs said about her son participating in the event held at the Fairland High track and Fairland Middle School gym.

Calling the indoor events was Mike Burcham, former Ironton High coach and athletic director. Burcham has volunteered for decades for the annual competition designed for developmentally disabled students from kindergarten to 12th grade from all the county districts.

“I love to do it,” Burcham said. “A lot of these kids don’t get to be in athletics. This is their contest.”

And no one watching the exuberance that took over the gym could deny that claim. Contest after contest ended in winning smiles and medals for all.

“This is a chance for them to be like everyone else, to be able to participate,” Vanessa Honaker, an Open Door teacher, said.

The Open Door students train constantly with their coach Jim Robinson for the annual competition.

“He gets down with them and works with them a lot,” Dan Honaker, speech therapist at Open Door. “They get a large variety of things to do. These kids love to compete. They have a strong competitive spirit.”

And that spirit is what inspires the many volunteers who are needed to pull the event off.

“It is how much they enjoy it,” Mike Whitley, middle school principal, said. “You see it in their faces. The people who help get more out of it than the kids do, at least I do.”