For more information about Special Olympics Forsyth County, visit www.soforsyth.com.
The many supporters of Special Olympics Forsyth County were honored Saturday night at Central Park.
For the second year in a row, leaders of the organization held Sweets ’n Thanks, a dessert reception and awards presentation.
Susan Darlington, transition coordinator with the Forsyth County school system, said more than 120 athletes, their families, volunteers and sponsors attended.
“There was a lot of excitement just knowing that it was really being led by the athletes,” Darlington said. “It was the athletes’ way of saying thank you to the coaches.
“There are so many days that [the athletes] want to say thank you and this was one way that they could actually express it to everyone at one time.”
Darlington shared how some of the athletes read their reasons for enjoying the Special Olympics program, which provides a wide range of activities and sporting events for special needs children and adults.
“Many of them mentioned the socials they get to go to … and making new friends,” Darlington said. “So, it was really rewarding, I think, for everybody.”
The SO Perfect dance team, made up of a number of the athletes, also performed along with help from North Forsyth High School cheerleaders.
As a token of the athletes’ appreciation, program sponsors, coaches and other volunteers received paintings with a one-of-a-kind design that included fingerprints and names of some of the 2012 athletes.
According to Darlington, those included about 100 athletes who took part in state games, as well as about 400 who participated in local activities.
More than 30 coaches lead the various activities such as track and field, softball, basketball and bocce ball.
Darlington said it’s a credit to the many sponsors and volunteers that the program has grown so much since forming about 20 years ago. As recently as 2005, it had fewer than 150 participants.
Many contributions have been made in recent years, including funds for uniforms for state game participants.
“They can now go onto the court or the field of competition confident, know that they look good and are also going to play well,” Darlington said.
Other improvements include expansions to the Special Olympics unified teams, which include “typical peers” of the special needs participants.
“We’re also growing a [floor] hockey team … and we’re discussing building new bocce ball courts for our athletes so they can go year-round,” she said.
“It’s so exciting to see all the things that are happening.”
Darlington said she is probably most proud of the spirit of fair play the coaches encourage in the athletes. A state games representative who attended Saturday praised the local program.
“Forsyth County is often recognized as having good sportsmanship and really playing fair, and that really shows the true meaning of Special Olympics,” Darlington said. “I love that we’re well respected among the Special Olympics community for that.”
That spirit comes from the attitudes of the athletes and is contagious.
“Those athletes just make it,” she said. “Once you get involved, you’re hooked.”