The Tournament of Champions continues to grow.
The fifth annual version of the event for physically challenged athletes drew 59 competitors from 17 schools in four counties and Baltimore City to Western Maryland College Tuesday. That's 11 more athletes than last year and 40 more than in the inaugural event.
Despite the growth, tournament director and founder Jim Bullock said he has no plans to move the event to a different venue.
"We have no further plans to take it elsewhere," said Bullock. "Just make it grow."
The Tournament of Champions differs from the well-known Special Olympics because its participants are exclusively for the physically challenged, while Special Olympics is for the physically and mentally challenged.
"This is an activity for disabled children that are not eligible for the Special Olympics," said Bullock, a motor development specialist at Robert Moton Elementary.
Not only is the eligibility different, but the format is not like the Special Olympics, either. Athletes compete against themselves, not each other.
"We have the competitors do the event over and over again to better their time or get a better score," said Bullock. "It's a terrific response for an open activity, with no pressure.
"The kids feel they arein a non-threatening atmosphere. There has been a lot of positive response from parents and school administrators."
The events range from the -- and softball throw to a flying disc throw. All events tookplace inside the Gill Physical Education and Learning Center.
"I think it's wonderful the children that can't compete in regular activities can compete here," said Eldersburg resident Lee Ann Hamper, whose 6-year-old son Eric was competing in his first tournament. "It gives them their special day, and the family is here, and he's enjoying it."
"Also, my son has two older brothers who are involved in athletics. He's now able to get an award and a certificate and he knows he's earned it himself," said Hamper.
Western Maryland College not only helped by providing an area for the games, but also provided staff for officials and buddies -- the Tournament of Champions equivalent of the huggers at the Special Olympics.
Tony Brust, a physical education major, was the organizer for the WMC student helpers and gotthings coordinated with Bullock.
"For the ones I asked to volunteer from, I got a good response," said Brust, a junior. "For all that were asked, most were repeat performers."
Brust recruited 35 to 40volunteers, about as many as volunteered last year. That left the ration of buddies to athletes close to the ideal ratio of one-to-one.
"This year the numbers were close enough to run successfully," saidBullock.
The WMC buddies were a big boost to the parents with older children, said Linda Abbott, whose son R. J. is a 14-year-old student at East Middle School in Westminster.
"I like this program with the (college) students, at least in R. J.'s case," said Abbott. "Hedoesn't want his mother around. He would rather have his peers. It helps his self-esteem, and they also serve as role models."
The Tournament of Champions also included a relay race and an award ceremony.