BY AMBER WADOVICK, Elizabethton Star
This was a different kind of field trip. Instead of going to the zoo and looking at animals or checking out a government building, students across Elizabethton and Carter County got out of school to do sports they often have no access to, and for many, it was a trip they had heavily anticipated for a long time.
Students from Elizabethton and Carter County Schools gathered at East Tennessee State University’s Mini-Dome Thursday morning to take part in the annual Special Olympics in Johnson City.
Elizabethton High School special education teacher Abbey Booher said the event was an opportunity for students with special needs to feel proud of who they are.
“They get to succeed, to be celebrated for their accomplishments,” Booher said.
Students gathered at the mini-dome at 9:30 a.m. for the opening ceremony. After that, participants got to compete in a variety of different sporting events, including softball throws, an assisted walking race, wheelchair ball and even a mini javelin throwing event.
Caiden Williams, a senior at EHS, said his favorite part of the experience every year was the people.
“I love the people here,” Williams said. “It was a good experience.”
Schools from four different counties, including Carter, Washington, Unicoi and Johnson, all took part in the Olympics.
Kim Britt, co-director for the Special Olympics’ Upper East Tennessee Region, said the program has grown rapidly over the years, now spanning two whole days instead of just one.
“A lot of the athletes are hard-core,” Britt said, saying many of them actively train to get ready for the event each year.
“The kids get to be athletes today,” Booher said. “They are not just kids with special needs or disabilities.”
Many of Thursday’s participants get to attend the state competition in Nashville, Britt said.
“Sometimes parents do not realize assistance is given to help them go to state,” she said.
The real prize, however, according to Booher, was the students’ excitement as they participated in the Olympics.
“You see them happy and valued,” she said. “These moments are some of the sweetest in life.”
She said those who were unable to attend should find other ways to get involved in organizations like this who need the help.
“I want to encourage people to just go for it,” she said.
Britt said they welcome any form of community support they can get, hoping to fill the entire mini-dome in the future.
“I would like to see the community come out more,” Britt said. “This has been a blessing for me to be a part of this.”