By Wallace McBride, Fort Jackson LeaderMay 15, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C.(May 15, 2014) Almost a thousand athletes from around South Carolina visited Fort Jackson last weekend for this year's Special Olympics summer games, and they were given a hero's welcome upon their arrival Friday evening at the Solomon Center.
Nobody felt the need to contain their enthusiasm during the night's opening ceremony. Dozens of members of law enforcement were the first to be allowed into the gym, receiving cheers from both Soldiers and athletes upon their completion of a run from downtown Columbia to the post. Hundreds of Soldiers had taken their seats by the time 950 athletes were escorted into the building, and the chemistry of the participants quickly became deafening. Soldiers cheered, clapped and stomped their boots in the bleachers. Not satisfied with the response, Special Olympics athletes teased them for more. And they got it.
It was a weekend to celebrate exceptionalism, said Joe Feerrar, Special Olympics South Carolina board chairman.
"When you look around the room, we're in the presence of the best of the best," Feerrar told Friday's audience. "Athletes, if you take a look to your left and your right, you're sitting in front of the best of the best of the armed forces. And Soldiers, you're actually sitting in front of the best of the best of our athletes from Special Olympics South Carolina."
Last weekend marked the 46th year the South Carolina Special Olympics summer games were hosted at Fort Jackson.
Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, coincidentally Fort Jackson's 46th commanding general, continued that tradition of hospitality during last weekend's ceremonies.
"We want you to consider this to be your home for the next day and a half because we're glad to have you here," he told the audience Friday. "The Special Olympics has more than 22,000 athletes competing in more than 24 events (this summer.) Right here at Fort Jackson, we have 1,200 athletes who will be competing in aquatics, bowling, badminton, bocce, power lifting, track and field, gymnastics and softball - and I'm tired from just saying it."
More specifically, 1,245 delegation members visited Fort Jackson to compete in this year's events, a number that included unified partners and coaches, said Sue Maner, executive vice president of Special Olympics South Carolina.
"We've added a few more sports," Maner said. "We're doing power lifting this year, as well as badminton and bocce. We have eight sports instead of the five we usually have."
The Summer Games continue to grow each year, thanks in part to the enthusiastic participation of Fort Jackson's Soldiers, she said. The location makes the event easier in ways that some might not suspect.
"The Soldiers are absolutely awesome," Maner said. "Fort Jackson's one place where nobody has to lift or carry anything because there are so many Soldiers willing to do it. It's always fun out here."
The most urgent tasks, though, were those accepted by the weekend's athletes. While it took untold hours and dedication to organize this year's many competitions, it was hardly the moment for people to relax.
"All this training, all this effort comes out this weekend," Noah Leask, Special Olympics South Carolina board treasurer, reminded athletes. "Leave nothing on the field."
Leask and his daughter, Brianna, who was also competing this weekend, then led the athletes in the recitation of the Special Olympics oath:
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
"Over the past two days, law enforcement from Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Greenville, Aiken, Rock Hill, local law enforcement agencies and a ton of other folks have been on a quest to bring the flame of hope to these state summer games," said Barry Coats, president and CEO Special Olympics South Carolina. "They did this for no pay, no recognition and no accolades. Their one reason was for the love and support of you, the athletes of Special Olympics."