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PHOTO: Athletes race down the track at Centennial High School during the Special Olympics. / Photo by Matt Blois

By MATT BLOIS

Athletes competing in the Special Olympics raced down the track on both sides of Centennial High School’s football stadium on Friday morning. On the field, participants threw softballs and played bocce ball, and an olympic torch burned continuously.

Hundreds of students from all over Williamson County came to the games, and they all walked away with a ribbon. That’s part of why Jennie and Mark Dickens brought their son Micah to the games. They like that the games are encouraging.

“It gives him an opportunity to compete,” Jennie Dickens said. “Everything is a competition for this kid.”

Micah Dickens is a third grader at Walnut Grove Elementary School and he said he likes going to the Special Olympics because it’s fun. Micah competed in the softball throw, but he also plays baseball and basketball. He said he would like to compete in the bobsled, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option.

Liam Quirk, a third grader at Scales Elementary, said that he liked competed for the fun of it as well. He finished third in his 25 meter race. His school organized the trip to the Special Olympics, and it was his first time competing.

After competing, athletes walked towards the end zone where they stood on a podium to receive their awards. A crowd of parents, students, and volunteers stood in front of the podium and cheered each time someone got an award.

Connor Kalbfell, a fifth grader at Clovercroft Elementary, was one of those volunteers. He hung out all day with Jay Gates, a ninth grader from Hillsboro High School who was competing in several races. Kalbfell said he wanted to volunteer because it was fun, and that the best part was just getting to meet Gates.

Both Gates and Kalbfell wore t-shirts from the Brentwood YMCA’s Full Circle Program, which offers social and recreational opportunities for kids with special needs. Many of the competitors wore shirts representing local schools. Franklin Elementary and Scales Elementary school students wore their team shirts, as did students from Franklin and Centennial High School.

This was the second of three days of competition this Spring. The first was at Fairview High School and the next will be at Summit High School. Organizer Bethany Primrose said that overall there will be 500 to 600 people who compete. Many of the athletes were students, but she said there are older participants as well.

The athletes that win in the county competition will have the chance to move on to the state competition, and eventually nationals. Primrose said that some participants have even travelled abroad to compete in international competitions.