Photo by Johnny Jackson
Eight-year-old Landon Lane (left), of East Lake Elementary School, celebrates with other Special Olympics athletes following the 50-meter dash.
Joseph Kubitz, a lanky, 17-year-old high school senior, raced alongside a much smaller 8-year-old Brendan Price. Kubitz quietly offered Price encouragement as they sailed around a busy track.
Kubitz, a Stockbridge High School student, was paired with Price, who attends Hickory Flat Elementary School, to encourage the youth as he competed in the 24th Annual Henry County Schools Special Olympics Track and Field Events. The events were hosted the Class of 2011 at Stockbridge High School.
"It's a great experience for the kids," said Price's special education teacher, Samantha Harris.
"And for the adults," interjected paraprofessional, Jodie Hough.
"We try to take them to everything we possibly can. This is kind of a highlight," added Cindy Spear, also a paraprofessional at Hickory Flat.
The Henry County Schools Special Olympics Program brings together special needs student-athletes, from around Henry County, to compete in various athletic challenges throughout the year, said the program's co-coordinator, Deborah Brown.
Brown said the spring track and field events are the most popular.
"The purpose is that these athletes showcase their abilities because they don't get much chance to do that," said Brown, who helps organize the annual event with co-coordinator, Kathy Simpson.
Brown has been involved with the program for the past 24 years, the same length of time the program has held the banner event at Stockbridge High School.
Seniors at the high school look forward to the annual event each year, as they have the job of helping organize the event, according to Stockbridge Senior Class President, Joy Adeniyi.
"It's a learning experience," said Adeniyi, 17. "We get a better grasp on community service, giving back, and caring for others, through this."
Some 300 seniors at the school were paired up with Special Olympics athletes, to help guide and assist in the various events.
"This has been a senior project that we've done for many years, here," said Stockbridge Principal Eric Watson. "One thing I'm excited about is our senior class this year —they've showcased their character and integrity here."
Watson looked out on the crowds of elementary school students, numbering an estimated 270 pupils. One of them was nine-year-old Landon Lane, who partnered up with senior, Cedric ‘C.J.' Hall.
"It's awesome," said Landon Lane, a Special Olympics athlete from East Lake Elementary School.
"It's been a lot of fun," said his mother, Jody Lane.
Her son, fresh off a second-place finish in a track race, explained his career aspirations were solely focused on becoming a track star.
"Not a chef today?" asked his mother. Her son repeated his passion.
Brown said the public is invited to attend another round of the 24th Annual Henry County Schools Special Olympics Track and Field Events, which will be held at Union Grove High School this year.
The organizer said the added event — the result of outgrowing the single event at Stockbridge High School — will include pupils in grades six, through 12.
"We started off at 35 students [in the 1980s], and are up to 500 students," said Brown.
Those interested in attending may stop the school, located at 120 East Lake Road, in McDonough. Those wanting to donate to the Henry County Schools Special Olympics Program may e-mail Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Simpson at email@example.com.