Two days of competition and fun last Thursday and Friday highlighted just how special Special Olympics can be.
Students from 12 Bulloch County schools took part in Bulloch County's Special Olympics at Southeast Bulloch High School.
Bulloch County has been hosting its own Special Olympics for more than 40 years, said Susan Williams, chair for the Bulloch County Special Olympics. The 2019 event drew 185 elementary, middle and high school students.
Williams, who has volunteered with Special Olympics for six years, said the athletes have a particular place in her heart.
"My heart is these kids," she said. "I love to see the smiles on their faces when they come out to the event. They can escape their everyday life and just have fun."
This year's Special Olympics drew volunteers of all ages from all over the county. Don Garrick, an adapted physical education teacher for Bulloch County, was one of those volunteers.
Garrick has been volunteering with the Special Olympics for more than 30 years. He first started volunteering with his wife, who was a special needs teacher, in the 1970s.
Garrick believes that volunteering with the Special Olympics is one reason he went into special needs education, and he urges others to get involved.
"I would encourage people to come out and watch and see what's going on and to get involved," Garrick said, pausing to hug a student who had come to say hi to him. "The kids are a joy to work with, and you just feel good coming out and helping."
Friday's games kicked off with an opening ceremony, when a student ran up and down the bleachers while holding a torch made of paper as volunteers, teachers and students cheered him on. After the bleachers run, the student ran back to the start and yelled, "Let the games begin," and with that, the games were on their way.
The students were split into groups and rotated through a variety of Olympic events.
They competed in the 100-meter race, 400-meter race, 4x100-meter relay race, tennis and softball throw and javelin throw. The events are the same as the state Special Olympics because Bulloch County tries to send some of its students to the state games, Williams said.
No matter what place the student finished in or how far they threw the javelin or ball, their effort was always met with cheers, high fives and smiles.
The event also had an Olympic Village where students could have their faces painted, get temporary tattoos and take photos together wearing an assortment of funny items such as party hats and oversized glasses.
Awards were given out at the end of the games for the male and female students who placed in the top four in each event, and every student was given an Olympic medal.
"(The Special Olympics) gives them a sense of honor and a sense of achievement, a sense of joy," Williams said.