EAST ROCKINGHAM – It was a picture perfect day Wednesday, as the Richmond County Special Olympics (RCSO) held its Fall Bocce Ball Games at East Rockingham Park. With Carolina blue skies and the changing of the leaves in the background, there couldn’t have been a better backdrop.
There were 123 athletes that practiced for the event, and 116 registered to play. Richmond County Schools buses began arriving early, as the athletes exited with anticipation and excitement for the games ahead. Volunteers also arrived early and gathered with committee members and coaches Jeanine Wall and Theressa Smith to discuss areas in need of help.
Among the volunteers were von Drehle employees, Temple Christian School students, Rockingham Fire Department, committee members, a few athletes, and several others. Mt. Olive Church funded the medals for all the athletes in this event.
Ceremonies began with Smith announcing the starting of the games, and Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge carried the torch around the court as all athletes followed behind. The pledge of allegiance was led by athlete Elijah Shaw, and Joy Frye followed with the athlete’s oath.
“The rewards that volunteers receive in working with Special Olympics athletes are the greatest rewards anyone could ever hope to have,” Wall said, who has been with RCSO for 10 years. “Throughout the years, the progress I’ve seen in the athletes has been astounding.”
Eight Richmond County schools participated in the bocce event which included Richmond Senior High School, Fairview Heights Elementary, Cordova Middle, Monroe Avenue Elementary, Hamlet Middle, Ninth Grade Academy, Rockingham Middle, and Washington Street.
In speaking with Smith, she mentioned her goal for the next event, which is a bowling event in March 2018, is to have more schools involved.
“The weather was perfect, we had a great turnout,” Smith noted. “And I appreciate all the volunteers who came out to help. We couldn’t have done it without you; with this many athletes, it takes an army to pull it together.”
Committee member Lori Swails has a daughter with special needs who has been part of RCSO for 10 years.
“As a parent of a special needs athlete, I have seen first-hand the sense of accomplishment and pride our athletes experience during these games,” Swails said. “The confidence they build in themselves is worth all the effort and work that goes into providing this opportunity for them.”
After the games, the athletes and volunteers enjoyed hotdogs which were cooked and served by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department and probation and parole offices. The games will continue as six RCSO athletes will leave Friday, November 3, to participate in the State Games.
There is a need for five more gazebo style tents, as well as sponsors for the athletes. For those interested to volunteer, donate, coach, sponsor, or help in any way, Smith can be contacted at 910-997-8379, or information can also be found on the Richmond County Special Olympics Facebook page.