CUMMING — The weather Friday may have been dreary and rainy, but the smiles could not have been brighter.
Special Olympics Forsyth County held its annual spring games at Forsyth Central High School, with about 350 special education students and just as many peer students in third-12thgrades participating.
Athletes competed in events such as the 50-meter run, Nerf ball throw, soccer ball kick and long jump.
Many compete to win. But, as the slogan for Special Olympics points out, competing is not the only aspect that comes into play. Athletes enjoy the camaraderie and the opportunity to interact with students not in special education.
“It celebrates our spring kickoff, but it’s also something we’re able to do in the community to let people know about Special Olympics,” said Susan Darlington, transition coordinator for the school system’s special education department who oversaw the event.
“Sometimes we have first-time athletes out here, and we want them to know what the competitions are all about so they can eventually compete in state games.”
Darlington said Special Olympics has “grown tremendously” in the last 10 years in Forsyth.
Leagues for sports such as tennis and softball run throughout the year and the spring games represent the culmination of the partnership between the nonprofit and the school system.
“It serves multiple purposes. It encourages athletes to lead a healthy lifestyle, but it also gives them social outlets with other typical peers and athletes in the community,” she said. “There are athletes here who have had their first spend-the-night party. Some go bowling on a regular basis.”
Building self-esteem is another main objective of the events Special Olympics puts on throughout the year. Eventually, the goal is to help them find jobs with community partners.
“As they get older and leave high schools, we have athletes who are 45 and 55 and still have a social outlet and they’re still out there competing,” she said.
The football field at Central was filled with groups traveling from station to station, on and inside the track and also in the gym.
Chris Swaim, a school district central office employee in the special education department, helped lead high school cheerleaders and crowds of volunteers as they circled the track and welcomed athletes off their bus.
“These kids love this event. And I guess it’s kind of selfish on my part, but I love watching them have a good time, and I love an event that’s centered around them,” Swaim said.
The special education department has grown in recent years and has managed to retain high levels of involvement, especially on days such as Friday. More than 150 volunteers helped run the event.
“From the community, from the school system, from the parents and the teachers, it’s an incredible event because we all come together and put on this wonderful event for our children,” she said. “You just can’t beat it.”
Alexandra Swygman, a senior at North Forsyth High School, has volunteered as a cheerleader for the event twice.
“I love seeing everyone so happy,” she said. “All the athletes look like they’re so excited. It just warms my heart.”