For five decades, Special Olympics has encouraged people with intellectual disabilities and built relationships in communities through its programming and annual games. Just last year, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Presbyterian College has served as host of the Area 5 Special Olympics, which includes Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Newberry counties, for more than 40 of those years.
That spirit continues this year. PC will host the Area 5 Special Olympics on March 29 at Bailey Stadium. More than 400 athletes from 21 schools will compete. Families and members of the PC community cheer on athletes, and PC volunteers help staff the event.
The Rev. Rachel Parsons-Wells, director of Religious Life and Service, said she looks forward to seeing the impact the event has on athletes, who include adults and children, and members of the PC community each year.
“For me, my favorite part of Special Olympics is watching the engagement between the PC students and the athletes and seeing those kinds of relationships and connections — especially those folks that come back year after year to be a part of it,” Parsons-Wells said.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into putting it together, but the part where you see people achieving and being recognized for the ways that they contribute, and you see PC students making those relational connections is significant and transformational.”
PC students also play a part in planning the event, she said.
Senior Trey Counterman is one of the many student volunteers. Counterman said the games have a special place in his heart along with the athletes who participate.
“I have two brothers who have special needs; however, one participates in Special Olympics,” said Counterman, a business management and accounting double major. “So I have volunteered at Special Olympics since the 8th grade. I have also worked for a camp for these exceptional children.”
“What I get out of the day is something bigger than myself,” he continued. “The main reason I volunteer is to help and motivate and cheer on these amazing children and to give back because I have seen how Special Olympics has worked in my brother’s life and many others, making him have a sense of accomplishment from receiving a medal.”
Sophomore Cooper Short is considering pursuing a career in special education and began participating with Special Olympics last year. Short says the athletes are not only important to their families but the community as a whole.
“They deserve an event like Special Olympics that’s fully focused on them, and I want to be a part of that,” Short said. “My favorite part of the day is definitely the opening ceremony. There are so many people who come to this event. To see them all walking around the track together is a pretty powerful scene. The smiles are huge!”
PC first hosted the Area 5 games in 1974. At those first games, a group of more than 100 PC students helped staff various activities and events, according to PC archives.
Around 200 children athletes competed in events like the 50-yard dash, 1-mile run, high jump and pentathlon during the first games. Participants hailed from Whitten Village now known as Whitten Center, other institutions, and schools in Laurens and surrounding counties.
Today, adults join youth in the games. Many compete in softball throw, shot put, standing and running long jumps and various races.
“It’s a way for us to serve the community and people around us,” Parsons-Wells said of Special Olympics. “There’s something about it. It’s not hard work to get volunteers because people understand why it’s important. That’s really nice to see.”