Special Olympics wins the day

Summer games attract 227 athletes, lots of Fans

April 25, 2002|By Carolynne Fitzpatrick | Carolynne Fitzpatrick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With the crack of a gun, the athletes were off, charging down the track with one thing in mind: finishing. More than 20 groups of athletes - 227 participants - competed for the gold, silver and bronze in the Carroll County Special Olympics held yesterday at Westminster High School.

The county's 31st summer games began with the Westminster High School Owls marching band leading the athletes around the track.

The athletes were from Carroll elementary, middle and high schools, Carroll Community College and Therapeutic Recreation Council - a county program that provides activities for the physically, mentally and emotionally disabled. Each marched with his or her school and was recognized with applause and cheers as an announcer called off school names.

"I want you to compete the best you can. Each of you already won just by being here," John Seaman, Westminster High School principal, said in welcoming remarks.

Many of the groups had been to the Carroll Special Olympics before, but the Knights, a group of enthusiastic athletes from Century High School - which opened in the fall - was welcomed for the first time. Carroll Community College's athletes marched around the track raising cheers from fans.

Medals were awarded for first, second and third place in track and field events. All other finishers received a ribbon. Among the winners was Dennis Miller, 16, of Westminster High, who won the first gold medal of the afternoon for his run in the 400-yard dash.

"I'm excited, but tired," Dennis said afterward.

Each Special Olympics participant was paired with a Fan, a volunteer who worked with the athletes through training and offered moral support.

"I'm very excited for him," said Amy Boehme, a Westminster High School student who was Dennis' Fan.

Tina South, 39, from Therapeutic Recreation Council, won the gold medal in the manual wheelchair race. She has been training on and off since 1981 and was excited to win yesterday.

"I'm very proud of myself," said South, who was immediately hugged by friends and her Fan, Paige Willoughby, 16, of South Carroll High School.

Mike Buzgierski, of Therapeutic Recreation Center, collected the silver in the 50-yard dash. His Fan, Kevin Orth, 16, is a volunteer at the center, where he met Buzgierski.

"I like helping out," Orth said. "It's good smiles."

Nikki Elsen, 17, from North Carroll High School, received third place in the tennis ball toss. Nikki cannot speak, but clapped her hand "hello." She has participated in the Olympics the past few years and wins medals every year.

Her mother, Debbie Elsen, said, "I'm very excited and happy. It's a beautiful day and a lot of fun."

The athletes are required to train at least eight weeks to participate. Some train much longer. The support of family, classmates and friends is required in the preparation, organizers said.

Athletes must be at least 8 years old but there is no upper age limit.

Twenty athletes will compete in the Maryland Special Olympics from May 31 to June 2 at University of Maryland in College Park.

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