By Ben Lane, TSB Staff
The unmistakable sounds of a track meet could be heard from the parking lot. The shocking snap of the starter’s pistol. The shouts of encouragement from friends and family. The cheers when the race was won. The clicks of cameras when medals were placed on the necks of the victors. But Friday’s event was different than any other track meet that I’ve ever attended.
Today, MISD hosted its 8th annual Special Olympics track meet at Ron Poe Stadium. Teams from Sherman, Frisco, Community, Howe, Van Alstyne, Lovejoy, Princeton, Irving, Denison, Anna, Pottsboro, and Wylie joined McKinney’s Mavericks team.
The day began as all of the athletes exited their busses to raucous cheers and entered the stadium through a tunnel of supporters and one Chick-Fil-A mascot.
The McKinney Mavericks wore light blue, and every other team had their own T-shirt, all with a different color. The hundreds of volunteers were adorned in their burnt orange MISD Special Olympics T-shirts, much to the dismay of the Aggies and Sooners amongst the volunteer staff. The field at Ron Poe was a swarm of activity and a cornucopia of colors.
The day officially kicked off with the opening ceremonies. Mayor Brian Loughmiller read a proclamation and declared it “Special Olympics Day” in McKinney. City Councilmen Ray Ricchi and Travis Ussery spoke, as well. Then Janice Morriss, one of the MISD Special Olympics Coordinators, began sending the competitors over to their different events.
From there, it was an impressive display of controlled chaos. Races began on both sides of the track around the football field. On the field, there were areas roped off for tennis ball throw, javelin throw, shot put and other events.
Everywhere I looked there were people holding hands. Parents held the hands of their children. Competitors held the hands of the volunteers. Olympians held the hands of their friends.
The amount of support and love was overwhelming. Families walked together, rested together, ate together and hugged each other non-stop. At the starting line, volunteers and cheerleaders stood shoulder with the athletes and cheered them as they started their races. Proud parents snapped pictures and told their children they were proud of them.
Every event had its’ own cheering section. At the end of every race, the volunteers would hug the runners and tell them “good race,” or “great job.” High-fives and hugs were the go-to gestures of the day.
The end of one race nearly brought me to tears. After the end of a 100-meter dash, a mother scooped up her daughter and hugged her with all of her might. Her daughter didn’t win the race but they couldn’t care less. She was a winner, no matter what the results said.
But how this day affected me is infinitesimal compared to how if affects the families that were there to support their Olympians.
“To our family, Special Olympics Track and Field is one of the most important days of the year,” said Maria Ward, whose son competed. “It is such a wonderful experience. That day there are no limits. One of my favorite parts of this event is waiting for my son Chris to cross the finish as he runs 100-meters and to hear him say ‘I dit it.’ The look on his face is priceless.
“It truly is something everyone should experience.”
The Lopez family also shared in the experience of the day. Liz and Terry’s daughter Maria competed today as well. “Most people believe that persons with disabilities can’t accomplish things that non-disabled people can,” Liz said. “Well, when we see our daughter cross the finish line first, second, or last, she is our hero.
“She doesn’t hear, ‘You can’t do it,’ ‘You can’t beat me.’ She doesn’t think she can’t do it, she just does…and finishes. And the joy on her face when she crosses that finish line is not that she came in first or last, it’s that she did it.”
Liz and Terry’s son Daniel summed the day up this way: “I love Special Olympics because dreams come true that day.
“People see my sister as Maria not the girl with Down Syndrome. There is no judgment on her or any others. On that day she is Maria, just Maria.”
“The emotion you feel that day, is indescribable,” Liz said. “ `Special’ may be to simple a word but at the same time the perfect word to describe what that day means to our family and to others.”
The Special Olympics oath is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” This was absolutely on display Friday.
It truly was a wonderful and amazing day in McKinney. It’s a day that I’ll always remember. If you have the chance next year, make sure you attend the 2014 MISD Special Olympics. It will be a day that you won’t ever forget.