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Special Olympics generates sheer joy

The 2009 Lawrence County Special Olympics was hosted Tuesday, May 5, at the Fairland Athletic Field in Proctorville.

The event was coordinated by Sharon Blankenship, a retired teacher from the Fairland School District.

Blankenship started the first Special Olympics in our county in 1974, when just three units from the Fairland School District participated.

Upon my employment by the Lawrence County Board of Education in February of 1975, I learned that I had already been volunteered to co-coordinate the event in May of that year.

What a lucky break for me that turned out to be. I worked with this event for the next 24 years, coordinating Special Olympics in 1976, ’77, ’79, and ’80.

As a Special Olympics Governing Member and continuing volunteer, I chaired the lunch committee until my retirement in 1999. This undertaking involved providing 1,000 hot lunches to participants and volunteers. I worked closely with long-time volunteers Jerry Watson, Don Washburn, and Tom Tipton with the lunch program.

Over 250 athletes competed in this year’s event, representing Chesapeake, Dawson-Bryant, Fairland, Ironton, Open Door, Rock Hill, South Point, and Symmes Valley. Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals, as well as ribbons were awarded to participants in all races.

I will never cease to be amazed at the sheer joy the athletes get just from competing, win or lose. Receiving a medal or ribbon and a congratulatory hug at the finish line light up their life.

It was great to see a few familiar faces working as volunteers such as Mike Burcham, and Clara Lewis who always work the events held in the gym for multi-handicapped athletes.

Dianne Herrell, a retired teacher from South Point, was there to help where needed. In the 10 years since my retirement, the faces of most of the unit coaches have changed close to 100 percent.

Still, I recognized a few of the new faces, including Mike Waller from Dawson-Bryant, John Paul Patterson with Symmes Valley, and Frank Conley, a tireless worker and former high school chum from Open Door. Old friend and Fairland Middle School Principal Mike Whitley, was all over the place offering any additional assistance needed.

Even an overcast day that produced several showers could not dampen the enthusiasm of the participants or volunteers, both students and adults who helped run the event. The usual late start was quickly made up in time and events went on without a hitch.

In conclusion, it was a great pleasure to be at the 2009 Special Olympics and it will be on my calendar for 2010 when next year’s date is released.

Mike Nourse is a retired educator and contributing columnist for The Tribune. He lives in Coal Grove with wife Clara Gail, also a retired educator.