Volunteers, competitors share Special Olympics excitement
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012
By Sarah Campbell
MOUNT ULLA — Ted Oglesby couldn’t help smiling as he looked around West Rowan High School’s football stadium Tuesday during the spring games of the Rowan County Special Olympics.
Hundreds of people were cheering, throwing their hands into the air to form high fives and sharing enthusiastic hugs.
“Do you see the excitement?” Oglesby said. “How could you not love this?”
That scene and athletes like Jason Mercado keep Oglesby coming back year after year to coach.
“I’ve been hooked 11 years strong now,” he said. “What I really look forward to is seeing these athletes participate. These guys are the best kept secret in Rowan County.”
As Mercado’s coach, Oglesby has seen him excel both athletically and developmentally.
“He’s just inspirational,” he said. “Jason could have probably participated in athletics when he was in school, but a lot of coaches didn’t want to take that chance on him and a lot of others.”
Mercado was one of more than 230 athletes getting a chance to shine during Tuesday’s spring games, which included the 100 meter dash, shot put, running long jump, standing long jump, 15 meter wheelchair slalom, kickball and bean bag toss.
The games kicked off with Mercado lighting the Olympic flame, a privilege he received based on a nomination and voting by his peers.
“I can’t think of a better individual to receive that honor,” Oglesby said.
After the games got under way, Donna Howard waited anxiously alongside her competitors to show off her skills during the softball throw. She said she rarely wins, but that doesn’t matter.
“I love it, I really do because it makes me feel young,” she said.
Howard was a swimmer before she lost one of her arms. Instead of dwelling on the past, she puts her focus on the events she still participates in.
“She’s pretty great,” said Katherine Paul, Howard’s buddy for the day.
Paul, a junior at North Hills Christian School, volunteered Tuesday as a member of the Junior Civitans club.
“We decided this is something we wanted to do because it’s such a big deal,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Darcy Miller, a teacher at Carson High, showed up at West to support her student, Emily McCoy, as she sprinted down the track for the 100 meter dash.
“She’s amazing,” Miller said. “She’s got the best spirit.”
Miller said Emily’s typically the one doing the cheering, showing up to nearly every football game and band concert at Carson, but Tuesday she wanted Emily to be on the receiving end.
Sherry Miller and her daughter, Lori Miller, were also at the games as spectators to watch Lori’s son, Anthony McCravey, run.
But the ladies didn’t just cheer on Anthony. They clapped and screamed out words of encouragement for every runner.
“We like rooting for everybody, giving them a boost and making them happy,” Sherry Miller said.
Jenny Buchanan, director for the Rowan County Special Olympics, said more than 400 people volunteered during Tuesday’s event.
Freshman Patrick Hampton said he helped out during the spring games every year while attending West Rowan and wanted to continue that tradition when he went to Catawba College.
“I just enjoy the spirit everyone has,” he said.
Carly Trawick, a senior at Catawba, said she got involved with Special Olympics through her job with The Arc of Rowan County.
“I look forward to this every year,” she said. “It’s amazing. It gives me chills to watch them.”
Although the spring games wrapped up Tuesday, Buchanan said there are still opportunities for people to work with Rowan County’s “phenomenal athletes.”
“We’re in the middle of volleyball season,” she said. “We’re growing and looking for people who want to be part of this great, wonderful, awesome organization.”
Special Olympics is a year-round sports training and athletic competition that includes sports from bowling to bocce.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.