ROCKINGHAM — Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in you.
There was no shortage of believers at Tuesday’s Spring Games of the Richmond County Special Olympics. Each athlete matched up with a volunteer to guide them through their events and cheer them on.
“They both get something out of it,” said Richmond Senior High School principal Jim Butler.
Landon Turner, 17, a student at RSHS, signed up to walk the 50-meter dash event and was preparing to do it alone, but hesitated at the starting line. His volunteer partner, Destiny Rush, 17, said he was “a little afraid” but she and Kayla Moore, 21, another volunteer, met him at the line. With Rush taking his hand and Moore pushing from behind, Turner took off towards the awaiting cheerleaders.
He told Rush afterwards that he “felt like a superhero.”
The athletes represented nearly every school in the county — Fayetteville Street Head Start, South Hamlet Head Start, Washington Street Elementary School, East Rockingham Elementary School, Fairview Heights Elementary School, Mineral Springs Elementary School, Monroe Avenue Elementary School, Hamlet Middle School, Cordova Middle School, Richmond Senior High School, Rockingham Middle, the Ninth Grade Academy, and community adults — according to Theressa Smith, the organizer of the games.
The volunteers were from Richmond Senior High School, the Ninth Grade Academy and the Richmond Early College.
With this year being the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, Smith said they wanted to make it “bigger and better.” For the first time, the games included athletes aged 2 to 7, the staff of the Leath Library had a storytime tent, there were corn hole boards and other activities provided by the BETA club for the athletes to play in their down-time and there was kickball between the athletes and the volunteers.
This year’s Spring Games had the most athletes, volunteers and people in the stands than ever before, Smith said. The events included the long jump, the 50-meter dash, the long throw and an obstacle course.
“It’s good to have something like this for the kids,” said Vic Barberousse, whose son Jack, 9, a Mineral Springs student, competed in the games for the first time this year. Jack’s partner for the day was Dante Miller, 18, a running back for the Raiders. The football team gets to interact with special needs students in the gymnasium on Thursdays during football season, Miller said.
“It feels like giving back to the community,” he said.
Tyler Leviner, 18, a defensive lineman for the Raiders, was matched with Caleb Blake, 12, whose parents didn’t want his school made public. Leviner said helping the special needs athletes put the struggles he has into perspective.
“I get to see how blessed I am,” Leviner said. “I might complain that my shoulder hurts or whatever, but these kids are out here having fun and not complaining at all. It really opens up my eyes.”
Brianna Baysek, 18, a RSHS student, was matched with Braxton Knight, 11, a Washington Street student. Braxton won a gold medal in both the 50-meter dash and the long jump, which Baysek attributed to his “good attitude.” Baysek also volunteered for the bowling event of the Special Olympics in March, and said she enjoys helping out any way that she can.
Even though they had only met that morning, Baysek said, “We’re going to be good friends, aren’t we Braxton?”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]