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By Erin Smith

The sounds of laughter and cheering could be heard echoing across the athletic field at Elizabethtown Middle School on Thursday morning.  The air crackled with excitement as the Bladen County Special Olympics got under way.

Bladen Lakes School Principal Dia Thomas served as emcee for the event and opened the games by welcoming the athletes and thanking Elizabethtown Middle School and Principal Elizabeth Cole for hosting the games.

Next, Ms. Thomas asked Neil Gooden to come forward for a special dedication.

“We would like to dedicate this Special Olympics to a Bladen County native, Andy Sweat,” said Ms. Thomas.

Sweat passed away on October 3, 2018. Ms. Thomas said Sweat loved taking part in the Special Olympics each year.

“It’s a special honor to have him honored,” said Gooden. “He loved it (Special Olympics) and we miss him.”

Ryan Faulk, representing the Carolinas Home Care team, led the crowd gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance and Jackson Bostic, representing Boy Scout Troop 600, sang the national anthem.

Following the opening ceremony, members of law enforcement were joined by Special Olympics students to carry the Special Olympics Torch around the track to light the cauldron.

Jill Butler, who has a grandson who is diagnosed as autistic, said, “It is special the way the police officers treat it like its the real Olympics, makes it special because its real (to the athletes).”

She added that she appreciates what everyone is doing to support the children.

Each team made their own banner for the day and the banners were judged by Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor, Rev. Jerry McDowell, Miss Dublin Peanut Festival Hayley Hudson and Bladen County Register of Deeds Beverly Parks. The banner winners were:

*Elizabethtown Primary School received first place in the primary school banner division followed by Bladen Lakes Primary in second place and Bladenboro Primary School in third place.

*In the middle and high school division Clarkton School of Discovery won first place followed by Elizabethtown Middle School in second place and West Bladen High School in third place.

*In the adult division Carolinas Home Care won first place and followed by Bladen Community College in second place and Monarch of Bladen Opportunities in third place.

Each school was represented this year including the Bladen Early College SGA members and BETA Club members.

East Bladen High School Principal Dr. Wray was busy cheering his school’s athletes on to victory. He shared his thoughts on Bladen County Special Olympics.

“Its great. I love these kids. We get to come out here dancing and have fun with them and spend time with them,” said Dr. Wary.

Dr. Taylor said of the event, “This is a great event. We look forward to it every year. This is an opportunity to celebrate all of those kids that are a part of the special education program not only in Bladen County Schools but even our adult programs that we have..”

He added these athletes are the students with the greatest potential and he said it is possible for everyone to be achievers.

Students took part in such games as Bocce Ball, Running Long Jump, Standing Long Jump, Softball Toss, Tennis Ball Toss, Sprint Races and Wheelchair races. Athletes even took time to stop and take part in an impromptu dance competition. View video of some of the days activities below.

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