FORT SILL, Okla. (April 11, 2013) -- For the fourth consecutive year, Fort Sill hosted the Great Plains Area Special Olympics April 5 at Prichard Field. About 450 athletes from Southwest Oklahoma participated in track and field events in the regional competition. Another 125 "Stars of the Future," ages 3-7, enjoyed indoor play games at Honeycutt Fitness Center. Many of the participants will go on to the Oklahoma State Special Olympics in Stillwater, May 8-10.

"I want the athletes to have fun, to take pride in themselves and to feel that they have accomplished something," said Donna Sparks, Great Plains Area Special Olympics director.

The athletes came from 26 schools and several agencies throughout Southwest Oklahoma. They represented their schools and paraded around the track with Soldiers and families in the opening ceremony. Visitors cheered as the athletes waved to the crowd and walked behind their schools' banners.

Thomas Forrestral, from the Duncan Power Shop, ran the Olympic torch onto the track with Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby Neal, 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery CSM, and other Soldiers to open the games.

Keynote speaker Col. Donald Fryc, ADA School commandant and chief of ADA, represented the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general.

Fryc said if one ever wondered what Fires Strong! meant, this was it.

"Feel the energy, be part of the positive spirit and celebrate the joy of the athletes competing and appreciate the selfless service of our volunteers," he said.

The commander recalled the founder of the Special Olympics -- the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

She started the first international Special Olympics 45 years ago, Fryc said. It's grown to more than four million athletes in 170 countries. "Unbelievable -- the impact of an idea, then pioneered by a great lady, who put the energy and spirit behind it," he said.

Fryc told everyone to get their praise on.

"Every time an athlete takes the field, from first to last, you praise as if it were your own child," he said.

Next, Sparks led the crowd in reciting the Special Olympics' oath: " Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt."

A new event was the 25-meter walk, where an athlete and a partner performed the event together, Sparks said. Other events included a softball throw, turbo javelin throw, high jump, long jump, wheelchair and running events.

The 2-6th ADA organized the event here. About 250 volunteers from numerous units, families and schools assisted with events, Sparks said.

"It's just amazing the amount of volunteer participation we get when Fort Sill hosts the Special Olympics," Sparks said. "A lot of the volunteers' jobs is to be huggers, congratulators and just to cheer them on."

Volunteer Warrant Officer Aaron Gillette, ADA WO Basic Course student, said his entire class volunteered at the Special Olympics.

"It's really good to come out and help the kids, they have a great time," Gillette said. "It's also great to give back to the community."

After each track and field event at Prichard Field, every athlete was recognized. Soldiers and volunteers pinned ribbons on athletes as they stood on podiums after each event to the applause of onlookers.

"Everyone is a winner regardless of their finish," Sparks said.

Honeycutt Fitness Center was set up for the youngest Special Olympians to participate in play activities. The gym was filled with stations where children could ride tricycles, jump on bosu balls, get pulled on a blanket, run an obstacle course and more.

Myra Lewis, Geronimo Road Elementary School personal care assistant, was at Honeycutt with five students.

She said she wanted the children to be proud of their achievements, as well as to interact with their peers.

And, parent Teresa White was at Honeycutt with her son Anterius, 6, a student at Geronimo Road Elementary School.

"It's awesome that the military hosts the Special Olympics," she said. "They are very supportive of exceptional children."