Special Olympians root for each other during Summer Games at Baldwin High School
Rooting for the competition isn't just OK at the Special Olympics Summer Games of Allegheny County. It's the norm.
“If they see someone stumble, they stop and help,” said Terry Murphy, 67, of Ross, whose daughter Joanne, 47, was among 400 athletes with special needs and disabilities at the annual games Saturday at Baldwin High School. “No matter if they come in first or they come in last, they cheer each other on.”
Put on by the county Special Olympics committee and the school Special Olympics club, the games cap eight weeks of training in events ranging from the javelin and shot put to a 100-meter dash. About 80 top performers from the Saturday contests will go on to compete in the statewide summer games next month in State College.
“In some respects, it's the way athletics is supposed to be. It's pure athletics. It's not corrupted by money. It's not corrupted by anything,” said Joe Murray, 61, of Bethel Park, a Special Olympics committee member and longtime organizer. “It's athletics for all the right reasons.”
He said Allegheny County has hosted Special Olympics events since the early 1970s. They moved in 1988 to Baldwin High School, where some 150 student volunteers help the cause each year.
Several hundred volunteers assisted the games, selling food, timing races and guiding athletes of all ages through their events.
“Some of these kids do things that I would never even try,” said volunteer Jessica Miele, 16, a junior at the school. “It just amazes me that they can do it — and they want to do it.”
For Joanne Murphy, the games are a chance to get out and enjoy longtime friends, her mother said. Murphy flashed a handful of silver, bronze and gold medals from her performances in the 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash and a 100-meter walk, her latest wins after 35 years of competition.
“I'm out of breath,” said her friend and co-worker Marcia Ranker, 38, who ran her own slew of races by midday. She has competed for about 17 years.
Supporting the effort inspires high school students, many of whom go on to perform other community service after graduation, said Tim Laughlin, 37, a Baldwin gym teacher and Special Olympics organizer.
“You're growing a better community and a better understanding in so many different areas,” Laughlin said.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.