By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Smiling faces and cheers of encouragement were the sights and sounds of the Edgecombe County Special Olympics Thursday morning at SouthWest Edgecombe High School.
“I see a lot of love in this stadium today,” said John Farrelly, superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS), as he surveyed the crowd of parents, educators and community members. “Let’s celebrate all of the victories today, no matter how small, and cheer on our student athletes.”
Whether or not they won first place in their event, the student athletes expressed their satisfaction in a job well done.
“I did good,” said Christopher Whitehurst, a 12th grade student at SouthWest. He proudly wore a first-place ribbon for running and a second-place ribbon for relay at the end of the Olympics. He also fired the cannon to kick off the event.
“I like shooting off the cannon,” said Whitehurst. “I like running and throwing the softball throw and jumping.”
Whitehurst has been participating in the Special Olympics since he was a first grader at Carver Elementary School.
“It’s fun,” said Raequan Clark, a seventh grader at C.B. Martin Middle School who enjoys the softball throw and running events. “I love playing with other classmates.”
The success of the Special Olympics is not judged by who wins or loses. It’s judged by how many students look like they’re having a good time, said Kim Harrelson, Exceptional Children’s department program specialist for ECPS.
“We all win,” said Christie Joyner, a teacher at G.W. Carver Elementary School, One of her students, first grader T.J. Lovitt, won his race against Isiah Mondy, a second grader at Stocks Elementary School.
“I beat him,” said Lovitt, with a grin.
“We practice outside at school,” said Joyner. “We train, just like other athletes do.”
Lovitt has neuroblastoma, a form of spinal cancer that presented itself when he was just 5 weeks old.
“He’s paralyzed in his right leg, but that don’t slow him down none,” said Lovitt’s mother, Emily Morris. “He’s all boy. He loves the outdoors.”
Joshua Carrington, a 10th grader at SouthWest, wiped his brow and slowed down near the end of his race, but his teacher Mary Hayes grabbed his hand and motivated him to keep going until he made it to the finish line. His spirits were undaunted.
“I ran hard,” Carrington said.
“This helps the students to feel good about themselves. They have achieved not only in the classroom but in the athletic field,” said Charlotte Privott, retired educator of special needs children. Marcy Beamen, interim Exceptional Children’s director for ECPS, stressed the importance of having a day dedicated to the special needs children, surrounded by the support of their family and community.
“Special needs children have a lot of struggles,” she said. “(When) the crowd’s cheering them on, they can feel successful and feel like they can accomplish things.”
Event emcee Dave Sharpe gave all the athletes a chance to tell the crowd their name and what school they attend. When he gave the microphone to Kayla Boseman, a seventh grader at South Edgecombe Middle School, she started singing a Kenny Chesney song.
“You put her in front of a microphone and she’s going to start singing country songs,” said Judy. She said her daughter is happy to “join in anything, as long as she’s got her CD player.”
Judy held Boseman’s CD player away from her as motivation to get to the finish line. She described the Special Olympics as a “wonderful” event.
“I’m glad to see they do things like this for kids like this,” she said.
A total of 89 athletes participated in the Special Olympics. A couple of non-student participants were brothers Craig and Greg Pierce of Tarboro, who raced each other in keeping with a longstanding tradition. Craig won the race.
“When we graduated high school, that’s when they started us racing each other,” said Craig. That was about 20 years ago.
“This is our last year. We’re going to retire,” said Greg.