FORT SILL, Okla. -- From softball throws to 50-meter runs to gym activities for youngsters, about 450 athletes from Southwest Oklahoma competed in the Special Olympics Friday at Fort Sill's Prichard Field and Honeycutt Fitness Center.

"It's a great opportunity for the kids to have fun and to participate in sporting events they may not otherwise get to do," said Dee Dee Ashenfelter, Douglass Learning Center special education teacher. "My kids enjoy the interaction with the Soldiers."

Douglass was one of 33 schools which participated in the Special Olympics, said Donna Sparks, Great Plains Area Special Olympics director. About 250 service members from units throughout the post, as well as hundreds more family and community volunteers assisted with the events.

Athletes represented their schools and paraded around the track with Soldiers in the opening ceremony "March of the Athletes." Throngs of visitors cheered as the athletes waved to the crowd as they walked behind their schools' banners.

In his welcome, Col. Dan Karbler, Fires Center of Excellence chief of staff, said the Special Olympics was another example of Oklahoma P.R.I.D.E., whose 'P' stands for people.
"You couldn't draw up a better plan of how the people of PRIDE come together to make this event happen," Karbler said.

It was the second consecutive year that the 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, 6th ADA Brigade, hosted and organized the event, he said.

Col. Bill Stacey, 6th ADA Brigade commander, said the Special Olympics was an opportunity to recognize some very special people in the community, as well as for Soldier volunteers to live the Army Values.

"The Soldiers get an opportunity to do something bigger than themselves," Stacey said. "They get a sense of what we try to teach our young Soldiers about responsibility, selfless service, dedication to duty -- all those things."

The athletes ranged in age from 4 to 77. Youngsters 4- to 7-years-old participated in "Stars of the Future" at Honeycutt, Sparks said. The gym was filled with stations where children could ride tricycles, jump from boso ball to boso ball, get pulled on a blanket, run an obstacle course and more, all with assistance from volunteers.

In track and field events at Prichard, each athlete participated in two events, Sparks said, and everybody was a winner.

"Everyone gets a ribbon, everyone gets recognized," Sparks said. The athletes will go on to the Special Olympics at the state level in May at Stillwater, Okla.

Family member Rachel Foster brought her son, AndrAfA, 5, to participate in "Stars of the Future," as well as his younger brother Aden.

"It's really important that special needs children have an active lifestyle, and I think the Special Olympics promotes that," she said. "He's (AndrAfA) really enjoying himself."

Volunteer Spc. Adrian King, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th ADA, participated in the "March of Athletes." He was the sponsor, or battle buddy, for Michael, a youngster at "Stars of the Future."

"He was very happy, smiling and enjoying himself," King said. "We took him to all the events he wanted to do."

Volunteer family member Shannon Pulsipher pinned ribbons on athletes and cheered them on.

"When I was a kid my father was active-duty military, and my mother would bring us to the Special Olympics to support the athletes," she said. At Prichard Field, Pulsipher's daughters, Skyla, 4, and Shaylen, 2, high-fived athletes as they received their ribbons.

Volunteer Sgt. Bridget Horace, 4-3rd ADA, said she volunteered because the athletes "really are special and their disabilities may slow them down, but they can do anything we can do."

Fort Sill's First Lady Karen Halverson said she was proud of the service members who helped out with the Special Olympics.

"Look how many Soldiers are out here volunteering," she said. "It just shows how close we are with the community: That little bitty hyphen separating Lawton (Okla.) and Fort Sill."