“Are you going to throw the ball?” asked her friend, Devin Guy from Guntown Middle School.
“Yes, I am. Cheer me on, girl,” said the 25-year-old brunette with an infectious smile who then lobbed a softball down the course.
“I did it!” Christie hollered as she gave a high-five to the volunteers overseeing the softball toss.
Christie and Devin were among the 200-plus athletes who turned out for the Area 11 Special Olympics event held on the grounds of Pontotoc High School. In all there were 16 schools and five counties represented at the local level games, which are open to anyone 8 years and older with an intellectual disability.
“It’s an opportunity for them to experience success as school athletes,” said Area 11 Special Olympics Director Patricia Holcomb, who also serves as the Pontotoc County Schools special education director.
On the track behind Pontotoc High School, the eager athletes ran, threw and jumped. In addition to the traditional track and field events, they participated in horseshoes, bocce and basketball.
Brandon Witherspoon, 12, of Milam Elementary in Tupelo was excited about participating in his first Special Olympics.
“I’m having fun; I like to race,” Witherspoon said as he hurried off to participate in the basketball skills competition.
At the event, athletes qualify to participate in the state Special Olympics, which will be in May at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. But that doesn’t mean the others aren’t having a good time.
“They all go home highly decorated,” said Bonnie Hanna, a special education teacher at Guntown Junior High, who brought a group of her students to the annual event.
Even when they finish school, the young athletes can return to participate in the area games.
Dana Ellis, 23, of Guntown, makes sure her work schedule at Kroger in Tupelo allows her to participate in the annual event.
“I like to run,” said Ellis, who is also active in Tupelo’s Challenger League.
It takes about 300 coaches and volunteers to put on the Area 11 games.
“It takes a lot of people pulling together to make it work,” Holcomb said. The rewards for all the hard work were everywhere on the Pontotoc track.
“I enjoy the smiles on the faces,” Holcomb said.
Area 11 Special Olympics
These schools were represented Tuesday at the local Special Olympics event in Pontotoc: Pontotoc, North Pontotoc, South Pontotoc, East Union, Guntown Middle, Ingomar, Biggersville, Jumpertown, Kossuth, Lawhorn Elementary, Milam Elementary, Mytrle, New Albany High, Plantersville Middle, Pontotoc City, Shannon and West Union.