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The smile of a boy in a wheelchair is what stays on Steve Goodwin’s mind.
Goodwin was a volunteer at the Special Olympics while he was a student at East Carolina University.
This year, he’s the director of the Brunswick County Special Olympics Spring Games.
“Just seeing the joy in the athletes’ faces—big smiles, happiness,” Goodwin said as he described his most rewarding moments at the Special Olympics.
He remembers the joy on the face of a boy in a wheelchair in particular.
“In the grand scheme of his life, opportunities were pretty limited,” Goodwin said. “What impressed me the most was that Special Olympics gave these athletes an opportunity to shine and to be rewarded for their efforts.”
Brunswick County’s Spring Games will be Friday, April 25, from 9:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at South Brunswick High School. Winners will be presented a blue ribbon for first place, red ribbon for second and white ribbon for third.
“They’ve been training for it,” Goodwin said. “The teachers and coaches submit to me their athletes’ qualifying times.”
Then the heats can be divided by age, gender and qualifying times.
“We have 14 schools participating this year, which is great,” Goodwin said. “We have two additional schools this year. We love to see our population growing.”
Brunswick County officials expect 150 athletes to come from the schools and 75 athletes to come from the adult population, Goodwin said. Athletes have to be 8 years old to compete but can be younger for the non-competitive division.
“It’s very complex,” Goodwin said. “I never imagined Special Olympics was so organized. It’s an international organization, and it’s an amazing organization.”
Goodwin joined the Brunswick County Parks and Recreation Department last Aug. 1 after working in the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Recreation Department and with the Challenge Course for leadership development. After growing up in Goldsboro, he received his bachelor’s degree from East Carolina in 1994 and his master’s degree in physical education from Northern Colorado in 1998.
Although this is his first dedicated position with the Special Olympics, he’s already got the event well organized, including assigning a photographer and videographer.
The Brunswick County Spring Games are broken down into four divisions:
1. Athletics. These are traditional sports for Special Olympians.
2. Developmental activities for the more limited individuals. These events include kick ball (for distance), tennis ball throw, 25-meter dash and 25-meter walk.
3. Play activities for 5- to 7-year-olds. “Special Olympics competition can begin when they’re 8,” Goodwin explained. “These play activities give them a chance to build confidence and hopefully to prepare them for future competition.”
4. Wheelchair. This is for athletes who use a wheelchair for mobility. It is the smallest division in the Brunswick County Spring Games.
“There’s not a maximum age (to compete),” Goodwin said. “Special Olympics participation is endless.”
Volunteers to run the Spring Games come in all ages, too.
“We’re hoping for 100 or so volunteers,” said Goodwin, adding that county officials could use more volunteers for these Spring Games.
“We’ve love to have dedicated volunteers who greet them and cheer them on and make a lot of noise for them. That’s important.”
Former Shallotte Alderman Jim Roach has volunteered at the Special Olympics for at least the past seven years.
He’s a member of the Brunswick Senior Slammers, a slow-pitch softball team that sends up to 10 volunteers each year to the Spring Games.
Roach and his teammates volunteer because of “the enthusiasm of the Special Olympics participants and the joy of seeing them feel like they’ve accomplished something by participating,” Roach said.
The Slammers orchestrate the softball-throw events at the Spring Games and fill in at other events when needed.
Roach said he was impressed by a Brunswick County Special Olympian chosen to be an ambassador.
“He’s a person who goes to the public and talks about Special Olympics,” Roach explained. “At the time, he was probably in his upper teens. He did an outstanding job as an ambassador.”
Roach said it’s rewarding to know the volunteers appreciate the participants and vice versa.
He said, “It’s a great thing for the county that there are so many people who volunteer their time for the Special Olympics.”
sarah SUE INGRAM is interim sports editor for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.