Published 7:48 pm Monday, May 1, 2006
By By KERRY WHIPPLE BEAN – Publisher
W.S. Neal High School played host for this year's Special Olympics event, which showcased 43 students from around Escambia County.
This year's event was held for the first time at the East Brewton high school. In years past, the event had been held at T.R. Miller High School. However, with the new football stadium and freshly paved track, the event was moved to Neal.
Throughout the morning, parents and friends gathered in the stadium, holding camcorders in one hand and pumping their fists in the air with excitement with the other hand.
Participants stood next to the railing, some bending waist high over the railing, in an attempt to catch a better glimpse of their classmates racing against each other in the 50-meter race and the basketball dribble race.
Suzanne Barnett, special education coordinator for Escambia County Schools, has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1993. As a special education teacher, she saw the need for children to participate in events and interact with other children.
With rules and regulation changes, the Escambia County Special Olympics went on a hiatus in 2000.
Barnett said this is the first time the games have been held since that time.
Austin Brooks, a student at W.S. Neal Elementary School, had a cheering section in his mother Samantha, and grandfather Vernon Ingram, who watched him participate in the 50-meter run. This was his first year to participate in Special Olympics.
Yolanda Brown watched her daughter Ethel McIntyre, a kindergartner at W.S. Neal Elementary School, participate in the 50-meter race. Brown said the Special Olympics is a great way for her daughter to expend some energy.
Students from Escambia County Middle and High schools, A.C. Moore, Flomaton High School, Pollard McCall and W.S. Neal elementary, middle and high school all participated in events, including the 50-meter run, 100-meter run, 50-meter basketball dribble, 10-meter walk/run, wheelchair race, Frisbee throw for distance and softball throw for distance.
Multi-handicapped students participate in adaptive events, including tennis ball throw, toss-em, squish dish throw and sand find.
The athletes were even entertained by coaches racing against each other in the basketball dribble race.
W.S. Neal High School cheerleaders and seven young men were hand-picked by special education teacher Larry Tindell.
During event changes, Tindell could be heard over the loud speaker breaking the ice - often with a knock-knock joke.
After each event, Tindell handed out individual awards, giving high fives or bear hugs to the winners.
By the third round of events, many parents were wearing their children's medals as they continued to participate in other events.
The Special Olympics is coordinated through volunteers. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for next year's events should contact Suzanne Barnett at 296-0633 or by e-mail at email@example.com.