Friendly rivalries on display at Special Olympics
By Cynthia Hooper
For the Salisbury Post
David Orbison and Benji Smith have been competing in the Special Olympics together almost their whole lives, and they’ve apparently developed quite a friendly rivalry.
Orbison, 39, placed second in the shot put at Thursday’s games, but his first-place finish in the 100-meter dash was extra special.
“I beat Benji, beat him for the fist time ever,” Orbison cheered. “Woo-hoo!”
Orbison said he enjoys the games and was glad Smith, who came in second, wasn’t mad when he finally bested him.
The Special Olympics spring games were originally scheduled for Tuesday, but were delayed by the strong storms that pounded the area early that morning. That didn’t matter to the 222 athletes who competed at the West Rowan High School track Thursday.
And event organizer Linda Broadway was relieved to have such beautiful weather for the competition. Broadway became the head of the event 17 years ago when she became aquatics director at the YMCA.
“I never dreamed it would be 17 years,” said Broadway, who retired from the YMCA recently. “We have the best volunteers, from all the high schools, both colleges, law enforcement, Catawba athletics and school nurses.”
She said the Salisbury Civitan Club “did a terrific job with the opening ceremonies,” which included the release of a small flock of pigeons to officially start the games, the lighting of an Olympics-style torch and the athletes reciting the Special Olympics Oath.
“They take it very seriously,” Broadway said of the organization. “We have terrific community support.”
The Civitan Club, which sponsors the games, received an award for service and dedication to the Special Olympics of Rowan County, as did West Rowan High School, which has hosted the event for the past eight years.
Plenty of individuals also came out to make these olympic games special.
Broadway’s daughter, Sasha Barry, brought some friends from Charlotte to help with the softball throws.
Sherry Crider has volunteered for several years in both the track and field events and the swimming competitions.
“The best thing about it is seeing all of the fun they are having, enjoying a new experience,” she said. Crider works in the Exceptional Children program and said the Special Olympics meet was a great opportunity to interact with the students and their teachers.
And it was an opportunity for the students to show off their athleticism and hard work.
Salisbury High School’s Montell Davidson started strong in his race, but due to some people standing on the track, some of the runners stopped short of the finish line.
Davidson, 14, was allowed to run again, and run he did, winning first-place in his age group. Davidson also won first place in the shot put competition, throwing the ball 19 feet, 9 inches. He attributes his two first-place finishes to daily practice.
The wheelchair shot put competition was fierce. Danny Correll of Cleveland loves to play ball, making the event perfect for him. His wind-up was unique, and his concentration strong as he threw the ball so far the measuring tape had to be extended. His throws measured 23 feet, 24 feet and 28 feet.
Special Olympics track and field coach Leanna Jernigan has been working for 12 years in Rowan County. Jernigan’s daughter, 26-year-old Jennifer, also participated in the games, running in the 50-meter dash and taking part in the softball throw.
Jernigan remembers taking her father to Jennifer’s first swim meet.
“He was amazed. He sat there and cried because no matter whether the kids won or lost, they were still so happy,” she said. “You can’t replace that with anything. They are the happiest group of people in the world.”
Jernigan just finished the basketball season and is practicing with athletes for the Special Olympics summer games, which include volleyball and track and field.
But she wasn’t looking past the spring games and the athletes’ feats there. Competitors must be at least 8 years old to compete and were divided into five age groups, including one for athletes over 30.
Edward Moose of Salisbury has been competing in the Rowan County Special Olympics for more than 25 years. This year, he participated in the softball throw and the standing broad jump, winning the latter with a jump of more than 5 feet.
Salisbury resident Janie Mattison was not aware she would be competing in the 50-meter walk. When told she was, she was eager to do well. Mattison came in second in the walk and first in the softball throw.
Some of Thursday’s winners will enter qualifiers and have the opportunity to represent the county in the state competition in Raleigh this summer. In the past, some county resident have gone on to nationals, and a couple have gone on to the world games.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System’s food services provided bagged lunches and water for the athletes.
Civitan Club members Dick Smith, James Smith, Wayne Hayworth and Curtis Montgomery have been volunteering their time at the event for years.
“It is the greatest project we have,” James Smith said, “look at all the kids. They look forward to it every year. It’s like the Super Bowl.”