FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (May 19, 2011) - Too often stories on the sports pages focus more on an athlete's arrests or domestic scandals than a team's camaraderie, pride or good sportsmanship. Such is not the case with Special Olympics, as the focus here is more about high fives, handshakes and hugs.

And depending on who you are cheering for, there are times when even the actual event takes a back seat to team spirit.

The Special Olympics Maryland hosted its second annual Unified Track and Field State High School Invitational on May 10 on the campus of Coppin State University in Baltimore.

For a second consecutive year, members of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group were there to lend its support.

"We are huge sports fans, have a daughter who's an athlete, and I have attended countless competitive sporting events," said two-time volunteer McAlister Hayes, intelligence analyst, Army Counterintelligence Center, 902nd MI Group. "We can say, without a doubt, that the SOMD event has been the most enjoyable and by far, the most rewarding.

"The athletes demonstrated a wide range of athletic skills, courage and sportsmanship. Most rewarding was witnessing the athletes encourage and support each other, teammates and competitors alike. The SOMD event was, in a word, inspiring."

Other volunteers echoed Hayes' sentiments about the invitational and overall experience.

"There isn't anything like watching these athletes accomplishing their goals," said Therol Stathos, intelligence analyst, Army Counterintelligence Center, 902d MI. "It just puts a smile on your face."

Although the invitational was only a daylong event, it was actually a culmination of eight weeks of training.

"I think I can jump 40 feet," said Jamaal Norris, a freshman at Forestville High School in Prince George's County, while talking with Sgt. Ronald Brooks, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 902nd MI Group.

The conversation ended with Norris saying he wasn't sure how far he could jump and that he would try his best. And on this day, trying your best is all that matters as his best score for the running long jump was 3.06. But to Norris, that felt like 40 feet.

"You looked like Trans Atlantic 405 taking off the runway," said Brooks as he complimented Jamaal on his score while referring to Jamaal's competition number 405.

Norris modestly nodded in agreement as he received kudos from teammate Rashawn Jones and Sgt. Angela Dudley, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 902nd MI Group.

Brooks said he volunteered because he wanted to speak to the athletes on an "equal basis" and not as someone with a disability.

"Every child and young adult I had the honor to speak to yesterday, I was able to make laugh or smile, and receive an equally humorous response," Brooks said.

Those who had lost their ability to orally communicate relayed their appreciation through a handshake or nod.

Those who had lost their ability to orally communicate relayed their appreciation through a handshake or nod.

"I had one young man hold my hand and ask me to keep talking to him because he liked my jokes," Brooks said. "All of the kids had a great time, felt pride in their results -- whether first or last place -- and showed me what heart and determination can achieve above any and all circumstances."

As a Special Olympics Unified Sports event, the meet paired a proportional number of students with disabilities with Unified partners without disabilities, which made it an inclusive experience. At least 50 percent of each team's roster was composed of students with an intellectual disability.

High school track and field teams from Baltimore City, Calvert County, Charles County, Frederick County, Prince George's County and Washington County competed in eight events. They included the 100-meter run, 400-meter run, 800-meter run, four times 100-meter relay, four times 400-meter relay, running long jump, shot put and mini-javelin throw.

"To see these students from different backgrounds and with different abilities standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as both friends and teammates, is to understand that in eight short weeks, Unified Sports is successfully breaking down barriers and building the foundation for a new generation of advocates," said Patricia Fegan, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maryland.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16