On Friday, March 23, approximately 300 student athletes will gather at Volanta Park in Fairhope to participate in the games of the annual Baldwin County Special Olympics. Representing their respective Baldwin County schools, and bringing their individual skills to the field, these athletes will compete to bring home a win. But perhaps the greatest victory will be the show of positive sportsmanship and support that sets this event apart.
“Every year, I still am amazed at the community spirit that comes alive at this event,” said Baldwin EMC Education and Public Relations Representative Kim Frank. “I think the Special Olympics shows what true leadership looks like. These students try their hardest, they are so happy to be there, they are so quick to celebrate each other, and they are surrounded by the biggest cheering section you have ever seen. It is so inspiring to see them overcome physical obstacles with so much grace. It’s not about winning, it’s about cheering each other on to bring out the best in everyone.”
Baldwin EMC brings a group of approximately 12 employee volunteers to the event each year, and this will be Frank’s sixth year to coordinate the co-op’s efforts. Baldwin EMC oversees the track events and the volunteer responsibilities can include everything from serving as timers and recorders, to taking the students to get their ribbons, to managing the start and finish lines.
Kody Willis, a Baldwin EMC Right of Way Technician II, volunteered at the Special Olympics five years ago, and now says he’d never dream of missing it.
“I’d of course heard of the Special Olympics, but until I volunteered that first year, I didn’t really know what it was all about,” Willis said. “That experience opened my eyes and left a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I grew up playing sports and I had the mentality of ‘winner takes all,’ but this showed me what it is to have fun. That’s all these kids care about – having a good time, celebrating, and having fun. It’s awesome.”
“My favorite part of the day is the Parade of Athletes,” said Dawn Frenette, special education supervisor for Baldwin County schools. “Watching each school walk along the track with their banner and all of their participating students brings so much joy to them and anyone who has the pleasure of observing it. Special Olympics brings so many opportunities not only to the participants but also to the volunteers. Anyone who has ever been a part of these events can tell you how special it makes the athletes feel and how heartwarming it is to the workers to bring them this happiness. The non-disabled students and their communities rallying around the athletes brings an inclusive opportunity for all involved.”
“It’s a lot of work, but I look forward to this event every year,” Frank said. “I think if we all spent some time with people with special needs, we would all be the better for it.”
The Baldwin County Special Olympics will take place on Friday, March 23, 2018, from 9 a.m. to noon at the stadium at Volanta Park. The Law Enforcement Torch Run begins at 8 a.m. and travels from the high school to Volanta Park. For more information, find the Baldwin County Special Olympics on Facebook.