FORT JACKSON, S.C. (May 10, 2012) -- Hundreds of Special Olympics athletes gathered last weekend at Fort Jackson for the South Carolina summer games.

And there was more at stake in these games than could ever be reflected in a game score, said Cindy Ott, who was there at Ivy Lanes to watch her nephew take part in the bowling competition.

"The games help children with special needs to participate in life and to be with others," Ott said. "It helps them to have fun, to interact. It helps so much with their growth. That's why I value so much what Fort Jackson is doing. It helps the parents to also relax and have a good day, too."

More than 800 athletes competed in events like cheer leading, softball, swimming and gymnastics. In addition to providing boarding for the athletes, the installation hosted the softball, bowling and aquatics competitions.

It takes as many volunteers as athletes to stage each year's event, said Sue Maner, vice president of programs and communications for Special Olympics, S.C.

"When you consider our volunteer coaches, our unified partners and day of event volunteers, we have 800 volunteers here," she said.

Special Olympics' summer competitions have been held almost exclusively at Fort Jackson since they began.

"For the first year they were down at Memorial Stadium, but the next year we moved to Fort Jackson," she said. "Every year they assign us a unit and they work with us for months to get this ready. We have Soldiers for every segment of our games."

This year, the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, hosted the games.

"It was good to see the athletes enjoy it," said Lt. Col. Eric Schourek, commander of the 2-60th. "I think they enjoy being around Soldiers. We had a bunch of the athletes come up and hug us, which is pretty touching. But they showed unconditional love for Soldiers in uniform."

Staff Sgt. Ayrike Spence volunteered as a chaperone for the Special Olympics dance.

"It was awesome," Spence said "I got to talk to a couple of the athletes and we danced together. We had a good time."

Staff Sgt. John Simmons was present for the weekend's closing ceremonies.

"Basically, they were a bunch of kids having fun," Simmons said. "They were excited about being here, and about everything they did."

Last weekend's activities marked the 44th consecutive year for Special Olympics at Fort Jackson, said Allen Amsler, board chairman with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"It is truly incredible," he said of the relationship between the post and event. "Thank you to the coaches who work countless hours with the athletes to bring out the best in them."

"This is a great partnership, and one that we're ready to do 44 more times," said Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, Fort Jackson's commanding general. "This year will be better than ever. We've got the best of everything this year, starting off with the best Olympians."

"It's about inspiration," said Robin Hinton, a paraprofessional aid at East Side High School in Greenville, who volunteered for last weekend's activities. "The children look forward to every Special Olympics. We've been practicing bowling for a couple of months. They really look forward to it, and ask about it every day."

"My son is a part of the Special Olympics in Lexington County, so anytime I can volunteer, I'm all for it," said Capt. Jonathan Plotkin, director of the Basic Officer Leader Course at the Financial Management School. "I know how vital, and how great, this program is to kids. My son likes the long jump and the 50-meter run. He can bond with the community and his peers."

Plotkin was leading recently commissioned lieutenants who volunteered to assist in last weekend's events.

"They're out here for two reasons," he said. "One, I told them to get involved somehow in the community while they're here. And two, they know how special this is."

"A lot of the Soldiers have never done anything with Special Olympics before, so it's exciting for them," Maner said.

Page last updated Fri May 11th, 2012 at 07:03