PEMBROKE — Everybody was a winner Wednesday during a sun-splashed special day at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Jadion Maynor, a third-grader at Pembroke Elementary, was among 200 athletes to participate in the Robeson County Special Olympics Spring Games.
“I’m having so much super-duper fun,” Maynor told his teacher, Aimee Lowry, while showing off the two medals he was awarded for participation in the 50-meter run and softball throw.
The four-hour competition began at 10 a.m. with the children and dozens of volunteers who helped make the games fun and celebrate the 50th year of Special Olympics North Carolina.
This year’s games included events such as standing long jump, running long jump, softball throw, 50-meter run, 50-meter walk and the 100-meter run. There was an area sectioned off for “free-play” for athletes ages 2 to 7 .
Participants competed in groups based on gender and age.
For the past three years, the games have taken place in Grace P. Johnson Stadium at UNCP as a combined effort between Special Olympics Robeson County and Robeson County Parks and Recreation. The games took place at Lumberton High School under the management of Public Schools of Robeson County before that.
Lowry has been bringing students to the games for the past three years, and this year she had 10 in tow.
“It’s grown a lot. There is more people out here every year and the structure has really improved with the new rotation system they put in place,” Lowry said.
Sandy Jacobs, associate director of Service Learning in the office of Community and Civic Engagement at UNCP, has overseen the organization of volunteers from the university since 2016.
“When we started this here, the volunteers initially started at a high level and over the years have remained at a high level. It’s a unique opportunity for students, and they love being out here and getting involved with the community,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs estimates that about 230 of the volunteers at this year’s games were UNCP students, faculty and staff.
Jacobs also acknowledged a great deal of improvement in the execution of the event over the past few years.
“The collaboration between the schools, the university and the county recreation department has been phenomenal and I think that’s the reason things have been able to improve,” Jacobs said.
The event was a good time for the participating athletes and the volunteers.
“I look forward to this each year,” said Betty Oxendine, a volunteer from Harpers Ferry Baptist Church in Pembroke.
The church has members present at the games each year to hand out medals to participating athletes. This year, there were 30 volunteers from the church — 15 children and 15 adults.
Aside from distributing the medals, the church provides a donation to the games each year that covers the cost of the awards.
BB&T provided pizza, chips and juice for the athletes. Campbell Soup and the county District Attorney’s Office also supplied volunteers.
Anthony Govan, director of the Robeson County Parks and Recreation Department and games coordinator, was pleased with the games.
“Things are going better than I planned. There’s even more athletes out here than last year and more parents are coming out to support the kids,” Govan said.
While the event was a success, Govan plans to continue to build on it. He said he has a couple projects in the works that will give children with special needs opportunities to get more involved with athletics.
“In the past years this is the only thing they got to participate in, and we’re trying to get them involved in more and organize teams and games,” Govan said. “We’re trying baseball, basketball and we’re going to try cheerleading.”
Morgan Bishop can be reached by email at [email protected]