GIRARD - Gloomy weather couldn't keep smiles off the faces of Special Olympic athletes Saturday morning as they competed in this year's state qualifying event.
"It's awesome to see when they get up there with their ribbons. We get hung up on all these things, but they're just happy to get a medal," Sue Beiling said. "It really puts life in perspective."
Waiting near the awards platform, Beiling was a volunteer from the Cuyahoga County Board of the Special Olympics, one of eight organizations from five counties that had participants in the day of events. About 240 athletes completed at Girard's Arrowhead Stadium with the help of 250 volunteers.
Tribune Chronicle / Margaret Thompson
Andre Johnson, 29, right, of the Fairhaven Workshop, gets ready to compete Saturday morning with other Special Olympics athletes at Girard’s Arrowhead Stadium.
Events included numerous races, a softball toss, long jumps and a mini javelin toss. Everyone competing was a winner and received a medal.
Ron Sackett, 35, waited with his father till it was his turn to compete. He said the Special Olympics have allowed him to make friends all over the area.
"I'm always excited! It keeps calling me," Sackett said.
Tiffany Soltis stood by the awards podium waiting for her son, Tyler Littell, 12, to receive his medal for the 100 meter race.
"It's great for them to be a part of the community, especially when they're sheltered so much," Soltis said.
With more volunteers than athletes, Carol Kirsch, event planner, said the games give everyone an opportunity to participate and show support for the special needs community.
"It's such a nice opportunity for people who wouldn't otherwise have it," Kirsch said.
Joe Jeswald, event planner, said the area Olympics began four years ago when he was superintendent of Girard High School. Now Girard City School District, the Girard-Liberty Rotary Club, and Fairhaven School sponsor the event. Numerous sponsors made the event possible.
"It gives participants the opportunity to compete and show what they can do," Jeswald said.
Jeswald said the event has continued to grow and this year became a state-qualifying event. Finalist have the opportunity to compete in the State Special Olympics in the summer.
"It is special. The word special is just perfect," Jeswald said.