FORT SILL, Okla., April 11, 2019 -- Sunny skies greeted athletes who turned out for the 10th annual Great Plains Region Special Olympics held April 5, on Fort Sill's Prichard Field.

The weather has seldom been this rosy in past years, a fact that wasn't lost on speakers at the opening ceremonies. Lynn Fitz, retired director of special education for Lawton Public Schools, gave a rousing cheer for the picture-perfect day, and Gary Weiss, the minister from Cameron Baptist Church who always delivers the invocation, greeted everyone with a big "Aloha!" and a "Surf's up!"

The keynote speaker was Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery (ADA) School and chief of the ADA branch. He described a wide array of events available to the athletes and cheered on the large numbers of people who get involved with the regional Special Olympics every year.

Soldiers and Marines from all over post volunteered to mentor the Olympians as they participated in a wide range of events.

Here, the emphasis is less on competition than on having fun and a feeling of accomplishment when the day is over.

Maj. Chris Chambers, executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 6th ADA, said this was his first year to run the event. Service members go through several dry runs beforehand to make sure everything goes well.

More than 500 athletes from 29 area schools were expected to participate.

This year's torchbearer was Austin Crawford from Cache Public Schools. He is the 17-year-old son of Roger and Debbie Crawford. Karen Watson, a paraprofessional for grades 9-12 at Cache High School, said the students there look forward to this event and practice hard for it, because it gets them out of school and they always have a good time.

The Great Plains Regional is a qualifier for the state level of Special Olympics, and her school usually goes on to compete there. This year it will take place May 15-17 in Stillwater, Okla.

Nathalie Mercer, 13, is an Eisenhower Middle School eighth grader who said she volunteered to help with the event because she wanted to put smiles on the faces of everybody. She paired with 13-year-old Victoria Nolan on her 50-yard partner walk to cheers from the crowd.

Skielly Riggs, 15, from MacArthur Middle School was participating in her very first Special Olympics, but with encouragement from the Soldiers, she made a running jump on her third attempt at the turbo-javelin throw to send it a distance of 18 feet, 9 inches.

One Fort Sill family wore matching white-and-blue T-shirts to celebrate the occasion. "Autism is my superpower," declared the one worn by 7-year-old Peyton Summerfield, who's been competing in Special Olympics since he was 3. He's now in second grade at Freedom Elementary School.

His parents, Staff Sgt. John and Sandra Summerfield, had "Proud Autism Dad" and "Proud Autism Mom" emblazoned on their T-shirts.

After the opening ceremonies, they took Peyton across the street to the Fort Sill Child and Youth Services (CYS) Gym and "let him go crazy over there," according to his father, who's a drill sergeant with C Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery.

That part of the Great Plains Region Special Olympics is called "Future Stars," and it includes all sorts of fun activities for younger participants. These involve big blocks, little bikes, a bath towel and sack race, to name a few.

"He'll just get a great workout," Summerfield said.