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Going for gold
Young athletes inspire through Special Olympics
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Kyler Beckham leaps into the long jump pit as Tracy Peters and John Shore watch. - photo by Emily Saunders
On the Net
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A group of special athletes took to the stage of competition Friday.

Coming from 40 classes throughout the county, about 250 students with disabilities from elementary, middle and high schools took part in Friday’s Special Olympics Spring Games at Forsyth Central High School.

Susan Darlington, coordinator of the games, said the day was a full one for the athletes and their supporters.

Festivities kicked off with an opening ceremony, featuring former Atlanta Falcon kicker Morten Anderson, and a march of athletes into the stadium, similar to the Parade of Nations during the Olympics.

Also included was a performance of “We’re All in This Together” from “High School Musical” by Vickery Middle School students.

The competition followed. Darlington said elementary athletes took part in 50-meter runs and wheelchair races, as well as tennis ball throw and soccer ball kick challenges.

Middle school and high school competitors took part in 100-meter runs, wheelchair races, softball throws and long jumps.

At the end of the games, all athletes received individual and team medals for their efforts.

The athletes were cheered on by about 300 “buddies,” regular education students from Forsyth’s four high schools, and about 140 volunteers.

Darlington explained each athlete has at least one buddy who “encourages them during the competition, goes with them from event to event and generally supports them.”

“Sometimes they form really good friendships [with their buddies],” Darlington said. “Ideally, we’ll pair a buddy and an athlete for an entire year and they’ll go to all three games [including the spring games and a basketball and volleyball competition] together.”

Darlington said volunteers come from community businesses, among them McDonald’s and Shane’s Rib Shack, which together provided more than 750 lunches for the athletes, buddies and volunteers.

Perhaps the best part of the spring games, Darlington said, is the inspiration.

“There’s an amazing spirit, not only of the athletes, but also the parents, community, buddies and even other students who come by,” Darlington said. “Everyone is so encouraging.”

She said the spring event continues to “grow and get bigger and better” each year.

“Our committee, about eight of us, get together every year in January to plan and improve on the last year’s games,” she said. “We’re always learning something new.”

E-mail Crystal Ledford at