There were no walls separating the smiling faces and competitive hearts at the Camden Military Academy track field Friday.
For the better part of three hours, more than 200 athletes – many clinging tightly to the hands of eager volunteers – blended competition and sportsmanship during the annual Kershaw County Special Olympics.
The event was one of 18 similar celebrations being held across the state to showcase and encourage the talents of children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“We are all the same,” said Kershaw County Special Olympics coordinator Billy Newman, describing the collective spirit of competition among the 220 athletes and 190 volunteers at this event.
Students from Kershaw County schools competed along with others from the Kershaw County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs in an event open to youngsters and adults.
Friday’s participants begin their day with a pledge: “Let me Win. But if I Cannot Win, Let Me Be Brave in the Attempt.”
From there, they headed to competitive and recreational activities that included a walk and run, tennis ball throw, softball throw, standing long jump and soccer kick. Other outdoor games, face painting and an event-ending dance-off also were part of the festivities.
“I’m just having fun,” said 30-year-old Camden resident Jason Hampton, who found instant success at the tennis ball throw. “I just learned to throw like that.”
For Newman, some of the most significant victories were not limited to the red, white and blue ribbons.
“It’s great for the athletes to get out and compete,” he said. “But it’s also good for the volunteers who interact with them.”
Few people appreciated that interaction more perhaps than Camden Military Academy eighth- grader Braedon Handley, who served as a volunteer. Braedon said his younger brother’s autism provides a better understanding of the bond that can develop with those with special needs.
“They don’t get to do all the things that we do and when we help them out with this, it makes them feel important,” he said.
This year's activities were dedicated to the memory of former Kershaw County Special Education director Debi Davis, who passed away recently.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Kershaw County school Superintendent Frank Morgan. “To see the cooperative efforts of so many individuals and organizations come together so well to benefit our Special Olympians is truly heartwarming. We appreciate everyone who helps to make this a great day.”