Special Olympics trials held

Charlotte Guedry
U.S. Marshall Deputy Josh Kaplan was thrilled to serve as a hugger for the day.

Participating in a sports program can be the making of any young athlete. Add a blend of spirit, fun, and sheer enjoyment at participating, and you’ve got the makings of a heck of a competition.

Dutchtown High School was the setting for the 2011 Special Olympics Capital Area Games time trials Feb. 23. Athletes from across the parish took to the field in the spirit of both competition and fun.

Special Olympics was an idea created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In 1962, Shriver began a summer day camp in Maryland for children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities.  Four years later, word had spread, and Shriver and her committee organized the first International Special Olympics Summer Games in Chicago. Athletes from throughout the United States, and other countries met to compete in the spirit of camaraderie.

Since then, the games have gone from strength to strength, with nations throughout the globe competing in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Parish athletes met on Wednesday to secure times and measures for the Capital Area Games on March 25 in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana School for the Deaf. Getting just the right time is paramount for any athlete, but for these athletes, it was also about the fun.

Local and state law enforcement agencies, along with students from Dutchtown’s Allied Health program, served as time keepers, mentors, organizers, and even huggers for the day’s events.

“I’m here today as a hugger,” said US Marshall Deputy Josh Kaplan. “I’m out showing my support for the community. We all are. It’s rewarding for all of us to be out here working together. We take for granted everyday exactly what we are capable of doing. It’s just so great to see these athletes so proud of their accomplishments.”

Jennifer Whittington, an adapted physical educator with the LeBlanc Center, was working to organize the event form behind the scenes. She served a s a sort of captain for the day, and dealt with registering teams, and making sure athletes knew where to go.

“The whole parish is here today,” she said. “All but maybe two schools have participated. It’s so important to be involved. These athletes are here competing, but also enjoying the moment. It’s wonderful.”

Law enforcement within the parish has taken a special interest in the games, and a union between Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley and U.S. Marshall Kevin Harrison has been integral in rallying support from both camps.

“The Sheriff and I were talking, and thought this was a great cause to support. ,” said Harrison.

“We, and other law enforcement agencies, are huge supporters and partners with Special Olympics.” said Wiley. “We’ve even taken part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which is a huge fundraiser for the organization. This isn’t a one time thing for us. We’ll keep coming back.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a national event which raises funds for the games. The run raises upwards of $30 million annually for the Special Olympics.

Correction Officer Bob Escamilla with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office felt honored to be able to support the athletes.

”To be allowed to make a difference is so amazing,” said Escamilla. “My passion is people, and there are some great people out here today.”

As the days events came to a close, this reporter was also reminded of something. It’s really isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Watching athletes play with such pride, pleasure and dignity was a great reminder of that.