Andrew Dys

April 11, 2014

Rock Hill Special Olympics features athletes, but helpers win too

More than 1,100 athletes competed in the Area 11 Special Olympics in Rock Hill on Friday.

The athletes who could run ran. Those who could walk walked. Those in wheelchairs rolled.

Everybody who competed finished. Everybody tried.

For more than 1,100 athletes from York, Chester, and Lancaster counties competing at the annual Area 11 Special Olympics Friday at Rock Hill’s Cherry Park, there were no losers.

Everybody won.

Even those who didn’t compete – the helpers, the volunteers – they won, too.

Huge groups of volunteers from businesses and government offices and more made up the 900-plus volunteers it takes to pull off these wonderful games.

But one group from Clover High School didn’t volunteer just Friday. They’ve been volunteering all year.

They call themselves the Special Olympics Fans at Clover, and this high school activity group is the fan club and cheerleaders for disabled fellow students who compete in the Special Olympics.

Each week, these 15 students meet with disabled kids in special needs classes. The fan club members go to gym class with their special peers. They go to dances with them. They hang out. They laugh and talk and cheer.

“We want these kids we go to school with to feel included like everybody else,” said John Slaven, 18, the fan club president

On Friday morning, each of Clover’s special athletes had a partner in the fan club. The partners held the athletes’ hands and walked them from event to event.

John’s partner was Ryan Mahoney, 18.

“I am proud to call Ryan my friend,” he said.

Ryan just plain beamed at having such a friend. He held John’s hand tight.

The whole group stood before more than a thousand people and sang the national anthem. The song never sounded better.

Andrew Collins, 17, had as his partner Kendall Harrington, also 17. Kendall can’t talk. His disability is severe. But Andrew did not care. He held Kendall’s hand and walked him to the starting line of the 100-meter dash – and then ran the race with him.

“I can’t describe what I learn from Kendall and all these Special Olympics athletes,” Andrew said, “but I can tell you I get a lot from them, and it is awesome.”

One of these Clover partnerships goes deeper than school ties. These partners are always partners. Taylor Melton, 20, a Special Olympics athlete for years, was accompanied by 10th-grader Alyssa Williams – her sister.

“This whole experience is just wonderful,” Alyssa said. “I am so proud of Taylor for all that she does.”

When Taylor ran – and she ran fast – Alyssa was there at the finish line. Taylor won her race.

Alyssa won that race, too.

At each event station, there were small platforms for the finishers to step up onto and receive medals, just like in other Olympics.

When Taylor was set to get her medal, the times got mixed up. Taylor was supposed to get gold; Maddie Thomas, her friend from school, silver.

The volunteer announced things the wrong way. The wrong medals were given.

Almost immediately, everybody realized the error. Maddie moved down to the silver spot and got her silver. Taylor stood at the top and got her gold.

Neither complained. There were no tears, no outcry, no officials worrying about a crisis.

Maddie and Taylor, special needs classmates at Clover High School, taught the world a lesson from that podium.

They hugged. They held hands and smiled smiles that covered all of Cherry Park.

Their partners stood together, too. The whole place clapped and cheered.

Emily Haught, 14, was Maddie’s partner. When Maddie ran, Emily ran. When Maddie finished, Emily won, too.

“I am so proud of Maddie and so proud she is my friend,” Emily said.

They left the podium together. They held hands and marched into their futures, together.

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