Young athletes win praise, hugs at area games

Competition: Students run, jump and throw their way to applause and ribbons in Special Olympics in Carroll County.

April 30, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The thump of a ball through a hoop at 6 a.m. yesterday signaled that Amanda Walker was more than ready for her first year as an athlete in the Special Olympics Carroll County Spring Area Games.

The opening parade was a good four hours away, said her mother, Michelle Walker of Westminster, but Amanda, an 8-year-old student at Robert Moton Elementary School, couldn't wait.

"She was up this morning at 6 a.m., shooting baskets at the hoop with a plastic bowling ball. My husband asked, `What was that?' "

After more than three hours of outdoor events at the Westminster High School stadium, the little girl's energy and enthusiasm hadn't lagged. She showed her ribbons and demonstrated her skills -- clapping, shaking hands and hugging everyone within reach, or singing and dancing in a circle.

"Needless to say, Amanda is just a little excited," noted the announcer as she danced and clapped at her ribbon, hugging her helper or "fan," Lindsey Stark of South Carroll High School.

"Running" was her favorite, Amanda said, followed by "jumping."

She was one of about 170 athletes, ages 8 to 21, representing 18 county schools, Carroll Community College and Carroll County Therapeutic Recreation Council. Marsha Barger, a teacher at Carroll Springs Elementary School and the area coordinator, said yesterday's Special Olympics were for participants with cognitive disabilities.

The 92 events included 50- , 100- and 200-meter runs, a relay, standing and running long jumps, races for regular and motorized wheelchairs, and softball and tennis ball throws.

Family members from babies to grandparents watched and cheered, while the teen-age and adult volunteers served as "fans" -- previously called huggers -- to move the athletes from event to event at stations marked by big balloons around the sunny field.

The smaller athletes begged for piggyback rides from the teen-agers as they moved from event to event.

Each event's participants lined up along the flag-lined awards box at the center of the field, where the indefatigable announcer joked and praised them.

Bruce Damasio said his 3 1/2-hour stint at the mike wasn't much of a stretch: He teaches social studies at Liberty High School, coaches the tennis team and announces games.

"This is one of the most gratifying things that you can do," Damasio said during a rare break in his duties, which he has undertaken for 10 years.

"I wish we could take this to all the high schools, to see how excited these kids are -- especially the athletes who groan and say, `Oh, ugh; I got to go to practice.' "

Russell A. "Rusty" Gates, 9, the representative of Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, was a favorite of the announcer, as he lined up for events in his second year of competition. He said the 50-meter run and the running broad jump were his best events, but thought he blew the ball throw.

"He's looked forward to it all year," said his mother, Donna Gates of New Windsor, who has driven school buses for local and statewide Special Olympic games for about 15 years. "He runs at Western Maryland College or in the neighborhood, and I follow -- in the car," she said with a laugh.

Jenn Carrel, a 16-year-old Westminster High School fan, had two charges: Mechelle Fernekees 9, and Tiffany Folk, 10, both of Robert Moton. "I'm a first-time fan, and I've had so much fun," she said.

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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