By Tiara Battle
VALDOSTA – On Thursday, several Special Olympians from the ages of 8 to 21 from six surrounding counties traveled to compete for the Youth and Adult Spring Special Olympics at the new Freedom Park.
The Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority hosts this event annually. This year, there was a total of 386 students and teachers participating.
The games included track and field, softball, and other developmental sports.
This event was not only a chance to get out and have fun but also to give those with special needs a safe place – a place of inclusivity. Additionally, it is part of why the Miracle League Complex, the nations largest, was built.
“The purpose of this complex was to make it where they can come in and be a part,” stated George Page, the Executive Director at Valdosta-Lowndes Parks and Recreation Authority (VLPRA). “It’s a totally inclusive complex and that was the goal of everyone from the beginning. Everyone’s together, everybody’s inclusive.”
Page included that Andy Gibbs, city councilman, had the idea close to 12 years ago to start a Miracle League. The board formed in 2013 and after five years, the facility was built. The facility is worth over five million dollars. Funds were raised by those in support of the Miracle League, the Parks and Recreation Authority, and SPLOST. Those funds helped to make this a reality, so Page wanted to remind the community of a quote by Football Coach Dabo Swinney of Clemson, that the community of Valdosta-Lowndes County is, “All In.”
IT Executive of Valdosta State University, Brian Haugabrook, can attest to the community of Valdosta-Lowndes County being, “All In.”
Haugabrook is the parent of Bryce, a Special Olympian who is seven-years-old. Haugabrook said that it’s, “definitely great not only for the kids, the parents, but just to see the community as a whole come together to support us.”
The Special Olympian father also mentioned that it was nice to see that those with special needs can have the same level of engagement as others with the now, nationally recognized facility.
Two Special Ed Paraprofessionals, Miss Childs and Miss Holmes, from Quitman Elementary gave their thoughts on the event and said that the kids need this type of environment. Being Paraprofessionals, Childs and Holmes knows what it means to the kids. Miss Holmes stated that they enjoy, “seeing their faces, the excitement and you know that you do something to warm their hearts or help them so it means a lot. It’s special to us just as it is to them to see them having a good time.”
Several people expressed that this was an awesome day for Valdosta-Lowndes County and the region and that it shows the togetherness of the community. It proves to show just that with the new Miracle League facility and the overall turnout at the event. As a community, the possibilities could be endless. For info on donations, visit miracleleagueofvaldosta.com.
The Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority will also be holding a VLPRA Board Meeting on March 13th at 4:30 PM on 1901 North Forrest Street. The Board’s Facilities Committee will meet at 3:45 PM.