By SUSANNE KAPPLER, Leader StaffMay 7, 2009
Approximately 1,000 athletes from across South Carolina descended on Fort Jackson Friday and Saturday for the South Carolina Special Olympics Summer Games.
The games began with the lighting of the "Flame of Hope" Friday followed by the opening ceremony at the Solomon Center. Fort Jackson Soldiers were at hand to welcome the athletes with chants and applause.
"The opening ceremony was so wonderful,"said Angela Prince, a coach who accompanied 30 athletes and volunteers from Greer. "It's so moving to see the Soldiers cheer for the athletes."
Lt. Col. Randall Harris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, which hosted the games for the second straight year, said the ceremony was a great example for the way Fort Jackson supports the Special Olympics.
"The way the Soldiers pumped up the crowd and really excited all the athletes with a genuine desire of support is fantastic," Harris said. "This is the 41st year Fort Jackson has hosted this event. We have established a great partnership with the South Carolina Special Olympics staff."
The aquatics, bowling and softball competitions took place on Fort Jackson Saturday. Track and field, gymnastics and cheerleading events occurred off post.
Staff Sgt. Angelo Rickert, a drill sergeant with Company C, 3rd Bn., 13th Inf. Reg., was not involved in last year's event, but said he was happy to be a part this year.
"It's an honor to help out (the athletes)," he said. "We're here to motivate them and support them in any way we can."
Harris said hosting the Special Olympics is all about making memories.
"I am sure the athletes, coaches and volunteers have their own set of memories, but for my cadre and me, we had the pleasure of getting to meet and support these courageous athletes and watch them operate at peak performance levels," he said. "Making that experience possible is something all my folks will remember for a lifetime."
Dillon Wilson, 15, an aquatics athlete, summed up his experience with a smile on his face.
"It's fun," he said.