By Curt Yeomans
The athletes proudly marched around the track at Southern Crescent Stadium, in Riverdale, while the fanfare of college fight songs, such as the "Notre Dame Victory March," was blasting through the stadium's speaker system, on Wednesday.
The parading athletes smiled brightly as they marched, and they waived to their cheering admirers, who shouted words of encouragement back to the sportsmen and women.
At one point, the line of parading athletes stretched from the mid-field point of the track, in front of the visitor's stands, around the backside of one endzone, and back to the mid-field point in front of the home stands.
The nearly 500 athletes were Clayton County students with disabilities. They were participating in the opening ceremony of the Clayton County Special Olympics, which is co-sponsored by Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department's Therapeutic Recreation Division.
The opening ceremony included the parade of athletes, a torch run, the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron, the singing of the national anthem, and a banner-judging competition. It was followed by games, such as horseshoe and beanbag tosses, for the children to enjoy.
"This is suppossed to be a carnival-type event for the students to enjoy before the actual competition begins," said Todd Bullock, an adaptive physical education teacher with Clayton County Public Schools. Bullock, fellow Adaptive Physical Education Teacher Erik Wantland, and Clayton County Parks and Recreation Therapeutic Recreation Director Taurus Gamble are the coordinators for the county's Special Olympics.
With the opening ceremony now behind the athletes, the competitions events -- all of which are track-and field-type events -- are scheduled to take place today, beginning at approximately 9 a.m., at the stadium, which is located at 6237 Garden walk Blvd., in Riverdale.
The events include a 50-meter run, long jumps, wheel-chair races, and softball throwing, Wantland said. "They've worked hard all year to prepare for this, so this is their time to shine," he added.
Wantland said the Clayton County Special Olympics has been held every year for the last 30 years, and Gamble said Clayton County Public Schools and Clayton County Parks and Recreation have been partners in the event since it began.
Gamble also said it is important for any child, regardless of whether he or she has a disability, to be active as much as possible. "They all need the excercise, and social skills, and the opportunity to develop the ability to adapt to every day life," he said.