A photo finish
More than 150 athletes from 31 schools in Colbert and Lauderdale counties participated in the track and field events of the Special Olympics on Friday at Braly Municipal Stadium. It was a perfect, if hot, day for the games with sunny skies and temperatures that climbed into the 80s. "It never rains on Special Olympics," said coordinator Laurie Tant, motioning toward a blue, nearly cloudless sky. "God makes sure these games go on." And nothing, not even a little rain, would have squelched the enthusiasm of the crowd. Filling the stands were families and friends of athletes as well as teachers and school administrators, all present to show their support for the athletes representing their respective schools. As Rogers High School's Mason Carter prepared for his 100-meter walk event, he explained how there has to be strategy involved. "It's a fast walk for one thing," he said. "And, I can walk really fast but it's because I've practiced a lot. You also have to stay focused and look straight ahead, not at the competition. You've got to stay focused." Carter's focus won him a blue ribbon in the softball throw, too. "I just like to do a lot of different stuff," he said, as he accepted congratulations on his blue ribbon from passers-by. Dasha Hillman, a student from Muscle Shoals Middle School, patiently awaited her event to be called: the 100-meter walk. She said her day had already had a great start, even before she arrived at Braly Stadium . Students at her school gathered for a send-off for the athletes, complete with signs bearing their names and good luck messages. "That was my favorite part," she said. Hillman's mother, Charlena, and her grandmother, Barbara, sat in the stands awaiting Dasha to take her position on the track. Both women said they couldn't be more proud of Dasha and proud of the fact that the area hosts such an important event as the Special Olympics. "Dasha gets to participate in these kinds of activities here in this setting, and that's just such a blessing for us and for her," Barbara said. "These are things she couldn't ordinarily do. It means a lot to us to see her compete." Charlena said her daughter has competed in Special Olympics for several years. "Around this time of year she gets so excited and she doesn't, for one second, let us forget that 'the Games' are nearing," Charlena said. "These games are a real blessing for these children." Many of the schools with Special Olympians held send-off rallies before the 9 a.m. parade and games. One of the biggest was at Forest Hills Elementary. The 700-member student body formed a spirit line and cheered as the athletes passed. This year was bittersweet, as the students also used the send-off as a time to memorialize one of their own, fourth-grader Devonte Shanes, who died April 11. As a Special Olympian who loved the games, Devonte was remembered Friday by his classmates as a loving child who adored his family and friends. The students released red balloons in his honor, as red was his favorite color. The State Special Olympics will be May 16-18 at Troy University. Sixty-nine athletes from the local games are scheduled to participate.