ASHEBORO — Everybody is a winner in Special Olympics, and not just the athletes.
That was shown again on April 25 during the 2023 Special Olympics Randolph County Athletics Competition at Southwestern Randolph High School.
A total of 231 athletes were registered to compete in sprints and throwing events, from elementary, middle school and high school in the Randolph County School System, Asheboro City Schools and Uwharrie Charter Academy.
The Special Olympics committee, made up of Elisha Kivett, Jonathan Sermon, Kelli King and Shawn Columbia, received help from dozens of volunteers to carry out the competition. Ryan McCoy, sports program supervisor for the City of Asheboro, emceed the ceremonies.
Kivett said Randolph County has conducted Special Olympics for more than 30 years. While the athletes can also enter bowling, basketball and swimming events, “this is something they look forward to all year. This is everybody in one day.”
Asked what Special Olympics does for students with physical and developmental disabilities, Kivett said, “This is a confidence builder. They get ribbons and are praised for their efforts. It’s all positivity.”
Besides the Special Olympics athletes, a number of high school students are involved as buddies, one per athlete. “There are a lot of (buddies) out here cheering them on,” Kivett said. “Socially, that makes (the athletes) feel like one of them.”
One such team of athlete and buddy were Sara Webster and Zoe Shaw. Sara is a student at the Uwharrie Charter Academy Middle School and Zoe attends Southwestern Randolph High School.
When Sara lined up to run the girls’ 25-meter and 50-meter races, Zoe was in her lane at the finish line cheering her on. Sara came in first in both events, a cause for celebration for both of them.
“It felt good,” Sara said of winning. Zoe added, “We just met today. She’s a really sweet girl.”
oe said she became involved with Special Olympics in Southwestern’s Unify Club. “We do special needs stuff and Special Olympics,” she said. “It’s for fun, to watch them have fun and to support them.”
As for Sara’s feelings toward her new buddy, “I think she’s awesome.”
The Special Olympics ceremony started with the parade of athletes around the Southwestern track, with McCoy announcing each school’s team as it passed by carrying their school banner.
When they were all gathered facing the grandstand, McCoy said, “Today we welcome athletes from all across Randolph County and wish them well on their competitions. We have 27 schools participating from Asheboro City Schools, Randolph County Schools and Uwharrie Charter Academy with a total of 231 athletes.”
McCoy thanked Southwestern Principal Brian Hodgin for use of the facility, the Southwestern Jr. ROTC for their work, Project Unify Club, the staff of the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA, the Asheboro Cultural and Recreational Services Department and the Ulah Fire Department. Also, all the volunteers who turned out to make the event possible.
Justin Curry, youth pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church, gave the invocation and Sam Fennell of Asheboro High School led the Athletes Oath. The SWRHS Jr. ROTC color guard presented the flag and Tuan Ksor, a 10th grader at Uwharrie Ridge 6-12, sang the National Anthem. McCoy then named the winners of the banner contests: Level Cross Elementary, Southwestern Randolph Middle School and Southwestern Randolph High School.
Finally, Chris Hall of Trinity High School, escorted by officers of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, carried the Olympic torch to loud applause from the crowd. Then, the games began.
While medals were presented to the top three contestants in each event, everyone participating received a ribbon around the neck.
And they weren’t just participation awards for these special athletes.
A race may have a clear winner or two or three athletes vying for the finish line. But, invariably, there were others behind them barely able to run who still persevered and crossed the finish line. Each of them deserved recognition for doing their best.
As the Athletes Oath proclaims: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
There was plenty of bravery on display at the Randolph County Special Olympics.