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Athletes jump, toss and sprint to success in Special Olympics Spring Games

Scenes from the 47th annual Carroll County Special Olympics Spring Games in Westminster

With music playing in the background, Derek Long smiled wide as a gold medal was placed around his neck at the 47th annual Carroll County Special Olympics Spring Games.

He felt "super excited" after receiving the medal, he said. This was his very first time at the games, held annually to celebrate hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

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To prepare, the 11th-grader at Westminster High School had been practicing all week, though he did have to take a break from perfecting his long jump in the cafeteria.

"He's been a bundle of joy all week," said his mother Donna Long.

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Held at Westminster High School, the spring games consisted of field events including shot put, long jump and softball toss and various track events for runners and wheelchair users. They bring out hundreds of athletes from all levels of Carroll County schools as well as other local groups.

Shiloh Middle School eighth-grader Ryan Van Horn was cheered on by friends and family as he competed in the 100-meter dash during his third time at the Special Olympics.

After giving it his all in the event, he was a little out of breath.

"I'm so tired I can't even talk," he said.

What advice did he have for athletes participating in their very first games?

"Never give up," he said.

Charles Haas of the Carroll County Tigers, who participated in the long jump, softball throw and 400-meter run, said he was looking forward most to the 400-meter run, one of the longest running events that traditionally comes toward the end of the games, because he enjoys running.

He described winning first place as one of the best feelings one can have.

Sgt. Adam Laser, of the Westminster Police Department, spent the afternoon at one of the medal podiums awarding bronze, silver and gold to the athletes.

Though the Westminster Police Department has been a partner with Special Olympics for many years, it was Laser's first outing to the games, and he said the pride of the athletes was enough to warm his heart, which can be hard to do when you work in law enforcement.

"Everybody's having a great time," he said. "Every single athlete is a champion in my book."

Representatives from many Carroll law enforcement agencies were out Friday, including the Maryland State Police, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and McDaniel College Campus Safety. In June, groups will participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise funds for Special Olympics Maryland.

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At the various stations around the field, volunteers kept thing running smoothly. Dave Bollinger has been volunteering at the event for almost as long as it has been around.

Friday, he spent his 44th year as a volunteer running the softball throw and bantering with the athletes as they squared up to toss.

"You want them to feel comfortable. And I don't know how much they've practiced or how they're familiar with what they need to do, but I want them to get the very best effort that they can have today," he said.

Coming back to the games every year makes him feel blessed, he said.

"There's a lot of good folks that are dealing with disabilities and they have a lot of fun and get a lot of excitement, and if I can help make this a good day for them, I'm all for it," he said.

"Once [a person] comes out and volunteers, they'll be hooked," he added. "It's something I look forward to every year. … Carroll County should be very proud of the Special Olympics, and hopefully it will continue. It's a very special day for a lot of very special people."

More information about Carroll County's special Olympics is available at www.socrathletes.org.



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