Athletes from Fort Stewart, Liberty and Long county schools showed their abilities and mental toughness Friday during this year’s Special Olympics Spring Games.
The guiding force behind the games was Victor Garcia, manager for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s Exceptional Family Members Program. The retired soldier avoided the limelight of the opening ceremonies. He stood well behind Jason Rogers, Liberty County assistant superintendent for administrative services, and Col. Kevin Gregory, U.S. Army garrison commander for Stewart-Hunter, who welcomed parents and volunteers then congratulated the athletes.
“The Special Olympics have been around the U.S. for a while,” Garcia said, adding that he got involved years ago after taking a colleague’s place as a volunteer. “Because of construction going on at Quick Track, we couldn’t hold it on the base this year… These Olympics are for that special population of children who don’t have the opportunity to compete with other children. These kids wait all year for this.”
Garcia said EFMP defines an exceptional child as one who requires continuous medical, physical, educational, psychological or developmental care and supervision. He said there are about 2,800 exceptional family members serving with military parents at Stewart-Hunter.
The olympians are a mixed group of military dependents as well as children of civilians, he said. Garcia said the Liberty and Long County school systems helped with the games and the Liberty County Recreation Department allowed the use Long-Bell Stadium.
Rogers gave regards from Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee then expressed his appreciation for Debbie Tomkiewicz, an adaptive physical education teacher and school coordinator for the year’s Special Olympics.
“We want to thank all our teachers, who’ve put a ton of effort into this year’s program,” Rogers said. “I encourage everyone to have fun and enjoy the competition. Just sit back and make some good memories.”
A parade by participates carrying school banners began the games. The parade was followed by Bradwell Institute’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps color guard. The national anthem was followed by the Olympic torch, carried by Kevin Perkins. Gregory then helped Khalil McCrary recite the Special Olympic Oath.
“Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Gregory presented McCrary with his first award of the day, a U.S. Army Garrison coin. McCrary also ran in the first event, the 10-meter wheelchair race.
There were 11 heats for the 25-meter assisted walk. With adult volunteers following and encouraging each athlete, the faces of the competitors glowed. The roar from the sidelines and bleachers was thunderous. Being first to cross the finish line seemed not nearly as important as just crossing.
Other races and events included a 50-meter run, a softball throw and tennis ball throw.