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Special needs students experience the 'big top'

Dozens of area special needs students were treated to the type of high-flying entertainment that only the circus could provide them.

The students were recently invited on a trip to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, in downtown Atlanta.

The trip was sponsored Gas South, in cooperation with the Metro Atlanta Mayor's Association (MAMA) and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

"The ‘greatest show on earth' is a thrill at any age," said 78-year-old McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland.

Copeland was joined Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey, Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart, and other city officials, who accompanied roughly 100 special needs students, and their families, to the circus.

"If you could just see the gleam in their eyes for the six hours we're there, it's priceless," said Stuart.

The Stockbridge mayor noted special needs students from Stockbridge Elementary School and Smith-Barnes Elementary School, both in Stockbridge, were invited for the trip, which took place last Friday.

"I think it's fantastic because they gave to students who probably wouldn't have the means to go, or the opportunity," remarked Mike Eddy, principal at Smith-Barnes.

The circus, held at Philips Arena in Atlanta, included a pre-show interactive experience for its guests, who had the opportunity to get autographs, learn circus skills and take photos, said Miranda Roberts, the events director for Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge, and one of the trip's organizers.

Roberts said the county-wide activity was made possible through the coordination of, and resources provided by, MAMA and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Gas South provided tickets to the Feb. 18 show. However, there were several local entities, including the municipalities and schools, who helped arrange the trip. McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland said the Henry County Transportation Department was one entity that provided transportation for students at McDonough Elementary School in McDonough.

"This was the second year that the MAMA's group had gotten sponsors for special needs children," said Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey.

"It was a wonderful event," she continued. "Everybody had a wonderful time. The children were ecstatic, and so were the adults. Mayor Stuart was just like some of the kids, running around with a big red nose."

Lindsey acknowledged it had been at least 25 years since she last attended a Barnum & Bailey, or Ringling Bros., circus. She said that back then, circuses had three rings of shows under a large tent, called the big top.

"The performers were just as exciting as if it had been a big top," Lindsey said.