On the first Friday in May (normally) the Beaver County Special Olympics Outdoor Games are held. Dude and I have a ball every year. He's normally entered in the same three events. Standing Long Jump, the 50 Meter Run and the Softball Throw. The Games are run in a state of mostly-happy chaos, every year the same events have the same crowd of befuddled parents and 'buddies' (buddies are volunteer students that escort the athletes to their events) clumped together in uncomfortable, unknowing groups like cattle in a pen.
For those of you who've never been to an event, here's a rundown: Each athlete is assessed by the school as to their ability to understand, and physically participate in each event. When their physical skills have been set, they're given a designation, and this determines the 'heat' for that event. It's designed so that kids mostly compete against similarly physical children. It's pretty fair, and there's not much 'hedging', although I had some questions I wanted to ask Hopewell Junior High one year, but that's neither here nor there. So, generally you're going to see roughly the same kids every year and probably at every event through the day. And kids aren't the only thing you see annually.
Here's an example of 'what happens every year': The Standing Long Jump (above left) is always Dude's first event. It's in the same place every year, in the near left-end of the Beaver Area High School football field as seen from the stands. The same two guys have been 'kid wranglers' at the SLJ for the last three years and inevitably there's a group of about 50 parents, buddies and children milling around just inside the gate with the gruff voiced kid wrangler repeatedly calling out names for each heat. These names are mumbled around the group, sounding not unlike a herd of the aforementioned cattle and when he has enough names to fill one of the heats (it would take even more forever if he tried to do them in order) he passes that group of kids off to the students assisting the running of every event. Once those 5-9 kids have competed the results are tallied up and taken to the Awards Table for that event. A middle-aged woman reads the slip of paper, calls out the names, sends someone to gather the 3 kids who have wandered off, then another woman hands out the three medals and the remaining kids each get a ribbon. All the while that this is going on, the two 'kid wranglers' are trying to get more heats filled, the crowd is still milling about inside the gate trying to determine if they've missed their heat or even if they're in the right place, the students are still trying to get kids with limited understanding to perform the event somewhere close to correctly, and that guy you hear every year, but can't quite remember what he looks like is saying something you can't quite understand over the PA. And that's one of the better organized events. I don't even want to go into the crazed parental grumblings surrounding the annual mishandling of the 50 meter run, or the inevitable half hour wait for the Soft Ball Toss (it's right after lunch) or the SBT lady's unique idea about organization that throws chaos to the wind. (I'm not sure she knows how close she is to dire bodily injury every year)
If this were just for the adults there'd be a riot every year and I haven't missed a year that we've been in town. It's impossible for me to come home after a Special Olympics event without my face actually hurting from smiling so much. It's fantastic, and the reason is these kids. They just don't care! They're loving the whole event with all of their being. It's not just the athletics the kids love. They tromp the grounds hauling their 'buddies' around searching for people they know. Showing off their medals and ribbons and talking a hundred miles an hour with big grins on their faces. It's probably the only time outside of school where the 'specials' outnumber the 'typicals' and they seem to know they're running the show. I'm gathering quite a following of kids that look for me every year, but every adult in the place seems to know David. We can't walk 50 feet without someone stopping us to talk to Dude. Of course he acts like a Rock-Star trying to get through the fans to his dressing room, but the adults love him. They all ask me if they can take him home with them. I keep saying 'Yes' but I still end up taking him home every year.
The first time I took David to a Special Olympics he didn't want to have the first thing to do with it. He griped the whole time, all he wanted to do was get some Wendy's and go home. He didn't want to walk around, he didn't want to wait with the crowd, he didn't want to throw the softball. Then the ladies gave him that bronze medal. That was it, he was hooked. From then on the events couldn't come fast enough, he was continuously 'Are you ready to run?' (50 meter was 45 minutes after the SBT). I kept trying to tell him that we had to wait, but he was having none of it. It was a chilly, drizzly day and Dude, the kid whose life you have to threaten to get him away from his video game, wouldn't have gone home if I'd have laid down a trail of Junior Bacon-Cheeseburgers. (his favorite) The two Bronze medals he won that year are still attached to my Boonie hat that I wear quite often. I'm very proud of those medals, even though people sometimes mistake them for fishing lures. To David, the Olympics aren't so much a social event as a chance to add to his Medal Shelf. As a matter of fact, at the next years 50 meter he ran the race, ducked through the crowd before I could catch him, snatched the gold medal from the young girl in a wheelchair that was helping to hand them out, and walked off like he owned it. He came in 4th that year, and was pissed that he had to give it back. Every year he's excited about going and I've got to tell you, he's not the only one. I wouldn't miss it, him or the rest of the kids for the world.