By Ms Megan Cotton (AMCOM)November 3, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Milton Frank Stadium went through a transformation Oct. 25, filling up with hundreds of cheering fans and competing athletes.
The 44th annual Madison County Special Olympics Track and Field Events drew more than 470 competing athletes from Huntsville city schools, Madison County schools, Madison city school and the Opportunity Center. The 10 competitive events included softball throws, track events and long jumping with divisions based on the athlete's age and gender.
To make such a large event happen, they recruited about 1,400 volunteers and escorts from all over Northern Alabama, including 360 JROTC cadets. The cadets came from eight high schools from around the city, said Willie Burton, the JROTC operations lead.
The cadets helped fill the void created by the move of the Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School to Fort Lee, Va., under base realignment and closure. The OMEMS Soldiers had traditionally served as volunteers and escorts for the Special Olympics.
"With the Soldiers gone it's a great opportunity for us to step up, fill that void and help out," Burton, a retired chief warrant officer 3, said. "In our curriculum there is a service learning piece. We decided to do a mass effort and help with the Special Olympics which is such a special program."
Each school provided about 40 to 50 cadets for the day, depending on their class schedule availability.
When asked if they would help out again next year, Burton said absolutely.
"We have committed to bringing at least 350 cadets every year," he said.
Having Army support means a lot to the coordinators of the event, said Joni Haas, who has been coordinating the event as chairman since 1999.
"It's a lot of fun for them. The athletes really love having the military guys," Haas said. "It means so much to them to have them out there."
The yearly event takes much planning and coordination.
"We have a committee of 15 people and we start planning in July," Haas said. "The track and field event is the largest that the Madison County Special Olympics hosts every year.
"It is such an important event because it allows these athletes to do things they normally wouldn't be allowed to do in school," she said. "And it's a day off school for them."
To help ensure the event's success, AEgis Technology donated $5,000 and assisted in all efforts of the day, providing volunteers, escorts, materials and a barbecue lunch for the athletes and volunteers.
"We wanted to assist in anything they needed and make it happen so the event can take place without them having to worry," Camille Gardner, head of AEgis's volunteer group, said. "We just want to make it easy for them and make sure the children are happy and they have a memorable, fun day."
Escort Becky Johnson said she volunteers every year to help ensure the kids have a great day.
"They are always so happy to participate," Johnson said. "You just have to look at those smiles."
Monica Humbyrd and Matisha Gaillard of Columbia High JROTC not only escorted, but cheered, danced and laughed with their athlete -- Jane Kielsmeier of Challenger Elementary. Jane, the daughter of Redstone Arsenal's Darin and Angie Kielsmeier, had a blue ribbon pinned to the front of her shirt.
"We cheered her on in the wheelchair race and she won first place," Humbyrd said. "This has been a lot of fun for all of us."
Three JROTC cadets from Athens High -- Passion Lucas, Devonna Coleman and Sara Clinard -- expressed the same sentiments. Lucas ran alongside a hesitant Sara Wiegmann of Riverton Intermediate, who finished the race to the cheers of the three cadets. Each had a high five for Sara after the race.
"I really like this because we are out here helping kids. I like helping kids, especially kids like Sara. It makes me happy to see Sara having a blast," Lucas said.
"It's all about letting these kids have a fun day," Coleman added.
When asked about their day competing and having fun, Robyn Dunn and Zoe Thompson of Harvest Elementary couldn't stop smiling.
"Running fast and having fun," Dunn said of her silver ribbon in the 50-meter dash was for.
"We went on a fun field trip," Thompson said.
Winners for the events will go on to a statewide competition in May.