Spring Classic offers a day to remember for local Carroll County Special Olympians
|Special Olympian Robby Shilling, 11, a student at Elmer A. Wolfe Elementary School, waves to the crowd during the opening ceremony|
Prior to April 27, Nathan Carteaux and Jordan Sien had met only once. They attend rival high schools, with Carteaux in the 10th grade at Liberty High and Sien in her junior year at neighboring Century High. But on Wednesday morning, Sien found herself cheering for Carteaux as he participated in the softball throw.
That's one example of the power of Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics Carroll County Spring Classic brought participants, school system employees, volunteers, and family members together last week at Westminster High School.
After Special Olympian Sara Thommen led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and Annie Sturgeon and Tammy Holibaugh gave the signature Athletes' Oath, competitors from 27 county schools took to the lacrosse field and track for a day of competition and sportsmanship.
Kathy Zuback, area director for Special Olympics Carroll County and the mother of an Olympic athlete, was pleased to see not only the athletes, but an increasing number of volunteers, who served in many capacities, including just being "fans" who guide Olympians to their events and encourage their efforts.
"Every athlete is going to have a 'fan,' and the cheering will get louder," said Zuback, as 17 different events got underway at Ruby Field.
"We're getting better and better with communicating to our contacts in the school system, and that helps get a tremendous turnout here," she said.
"We have about 230 student volunteers and 20 to 30 people who just heard about it and came to help," Zuback said. "Once people come here and experience it, they find that they get more out of this than anything else they've done."
Carteaux, who was joined by seven other athletes from Liberty, was one of more than 200 who participated in Wednesday's event.
The 17-year-old came to Westminster with 18 medals already under his belt from his six years as a Special Olympian, and was confident of adding to his total in the softball throw, standing long jump, and 440 yard dash.
While Carteaux was participating for the seventh consecutive year, it was the first Special Olympics experience for Sien, who served as his designated fan.
"I want to be a special education teacher, and I'm in a club at Century called Friends for Life, that is centered around special education students," said Sien, who met Carteaux for the first time at a South Carroll field day earlier this year.
"I've learned that every kid is different, and they just want to be treated like normal kids," she said.
Though Carteaux is a veteran Special Olympian, he was certainly not the most experienced of the participants.
Tina South, who has spina bifida, started her Special Olympics career in 1981. Tina, who is 48 and lives at the Arc of Carroll County House near Westminster High, won her first medal long before Nathan was born.
She estimated her medal count to be "22 or 23" before Wednesday's competition.
"My favorites are the softball throw and the slalom," said South, who started the day with gold medals in the 25-meter wheelchair race and the 30-meter wheelchair slalom. "I love getting out here."
Tina Woodward, who has served as South's live-in residential advisor for the past nine years, has witnessed the joy that Special Olympics brings to her friend. "She loves the attention, and she loves having people cheer her on," Woodward said. "Look at her ... she's just eating this up. It's a wonderful day for her."
While South was adding to her list of accomplishments, Carson Brown was waiting for the softball throw with his "fan" Connor McDermott.
Carson was a medalist in the standing broad jump and softball throw at last year's event, and the sixth-grader from Westminster West Middle School was eager to begin another quest. McDermott, a senior at South Carroll, was excited for him. "Carson seems like a pretty good guy," said McDermott, a first-time fan. "Since I was young, I've known about the Special Olympics, and a good friend of mine at South Carroll convinced me to do it," he said.
While the fans and other volunteers enjoyed a rewarding experience, the Olympic athletes are the primary beneficiaries.
"For my daughter, it's not just the competition," said Zuback, whose daughter Jessica attends St. Elizabeth's School in Baltimore. "She can get that anywhere," she said. "It's the one-on-one attention that she gets from fans, officials, and everyone else. All of the athletes just love that part of it."