PARKERSBURG - It is the sense of accomplishment that many participants in the 2013 West Virginia Special Olympics Fall Games held in Parkersburg this weekend will take away from the experience, organizers said.
Over 760 athletes and coaches from 30 West Virginia counties participated in bowling, flag football, football skills and volleyball events throughout the weekend. The teams all gathered Sunday afternoon at the gymnasium at Parkersburg South High School for the awards ceremony and closing ceremony.
Many athletes and teams who were awarded medals cheered and raised their arms in triumph. Other participants gave each other high-fives and clapped loudly for teammates and others as they were recognized for their accomplishments.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Rachel Sheppard, left, of Logan County, receives the J. Fred Earley Sportsmanship Award for 30 years in bowling from John Corbett, CEO Special Olympics West Virginia, on Sunday at Parkersburg South High School during the awards ceremony for the the 2013 West Virginia Special Olympics Fall Games.
"I hope everyone had a great weekend and enjoyed their time competing, showing your spirit, reaching your goals and spending time with your friends," said awards director John Hannigan. "I too have had a great time.
"I really enjoyed watching all of the outstanding bowling, volleyball and football competitions and congratulate each of the athletes. I know each of you did your best and you should be quite proud of your efforts and the efforts of your teammates," he said.
Members of the Parkersburg South High School Air Force ROTC program presented the medals to the winners in each event and category.
Rachel Sheppard, of Logan County, received the J. Fred Earley Sportsmanship Award for 30 years in bowling. The crowd erupted in cheers and chants of "Rachel, Rachel, Rachel..."
John Corbett, CEO of Special Olympics West Virginia, believes everyone had a good time this past weekend.
"I think everything went very well," he said. "The athletes came in with smiles on their faces. Here it is Sunday afternoon and here they are still full of energy, full of smiles, full of laughter and full of happiness.
"All and all, it was great."
Corbett said this was the largest Fall Games they have ever conducted. Good weather and a lot of support helped make the games a success over the past weekend. Organizers would not have been able to pull it off without a lot of volunteer support from the community, he said.
"We had over 200 volunteers from the community to make this happen," Corbett said. "We cannot do it without the volunteers. A lot of people have stepped up for us here."
Many of the athletes were training for weeks getting ready for the weekend's competition.
"They get the opportunity to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities," Corbett said. "I think they relish the opportunity to play sports just like anyone else would.
"This event gives them that opportunity. They feel good about what they have accomplished. I have seen so many stories behind the medals."
That enthusiasm will carry over with them when they return home.
"They are going to go home and tell moms and dads, schoolmates, colleagues and friends how they won that medal," Corbett said. "It is important to them and they say it with a smile on their face.
"That means we have done something right for them."
Lynn Allen, Special Olympics Director for Marshall County, said they brought 32 athletes to Parkersburg.
"They love it and look forward to this," she said. "Everyone learns good sportsmanship which is good.
"We didn't win any championship games, but everyone had a good time."
Allen said many of these athletes get to participate in games and events around the state and each event is a chance for many to catch up with old friends.
"One of the things they enjoy is being able to see their friends at every event," she said. "They really enjoy rekindling friendships."
Ginnie Molnar, director of Berkley County Special Olympics, said they brought 40 athletes and coaches this year.
"This weekend has been awesome," she said. "This has been some of the best competition we have had at the Fall Games I have seen in a long time."
"All of the athletes were prepared and have had a great time."
Participating in these games gives a lot of the athletes the same opportunity to participate that their peers have.
"They are able to participate in sports, go to state tournaments just like all kids and athletes do," Molnar said.
Dion Wamsley, a coach for the Upshur County team, said the weekend was full of good times, good weather and good sportsmanship. Upshur County had around 60 athletes participating.
"Everyone has had a great time," he said. "A lot of these kids don't get the chance to do this type of stuff in their lives growing up.
"This is everything for them. This is their Super Bowl."
The athletes learn about fellowship as in talking with other athletes, they learn sportsmanship in how to get along with others and how to be part of a team.
"They really learn a lot," Wamsley said.
With so many demands on people's time, it is hard to find time to give something back and volunteer, he said, adding he has spent seven years as a coach with Special Olympics.
"I just fell in love with the kids," Wamsley said. "I feel good that I can do something for others.
"I feel good I can give something back to the community and give back to these kids."