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45th annual Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games held in Towson

Some 1,500 athletes from all over the state compete at the 45th annual Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games

Brittany Janson bent over and released the small green bocce ball gently, narrowly missing the smaller pallino ball. But she used enough force to get by her opponent's ball.

She kept her focus throughout the day Saturday, winning the bocce ball game against a 20-year-old from Calvert County and earning a gold medal at the 45th annual Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games. She was one of about 1,500 athletes competing over the weekend at Towson University in a variety of events.

James Schmutz, president of the Special Olympics Maryland, said the summer games are the organization's "signature event," but just one of several held each year for athletes all over the state of all ages, including one bocce player who just turned 90.

For athletes like Janson, 21, the games offer not only the competition but an opportunity to socialize.

"I like being with my friends from school," she said as she waived her arm and smiled at a young man calling her name, motioning him to stop as she spoke to a reporter.

Janson, who has Asperger's syndrome, has competed in the games for several years, playing different sports. But bocce is something that she said stuck with her.

"It's exciting for me to watch her play and be excited about the game," said her mother, Teresa Janson, who stood on the sidelines. "We have definitely seen her flourish, seen her gain so much self-confidence."

Her coach, Ed McAnulla, said, "It's a simple sport to learn but a very difficult sport to master."

He's coached Janson since middle school when he first organized a bocce team at St. Elizabeth School, a special education school in Baltimore.

"She has done a lot of growing in the sport and emotionally. She has become quite a responsible young women," he said.

Janson graduated Wednesday, which her mother said is a bittersweet departure. She described how her daughter loved going to school so much that she joked about asking if she could spend the weekends there, too. Her daughter, however, says she's relieved to be done with schoolwork.

"Brittany and I have talked about, 'Are you ready to go?,'" her mother would ask, and she said her daughter answered "Yeah."

"That makes me feel good," her mother said. "It makes me feel really proud of her, to see her grow so much. I definitely see she's ready to do more and to have other experiences."

She said her daughter would love to work in a music store. "I know that's her passion," she said.

Even from the sidelines, her mother can tell how her daughter is feeling, when a smile flashes underneath her large black sporty sunglasses, or when "she's as happy as a peacock."

But there are the tense moments, too, as Brittany waits for the officials to measure the distance of her balls and her opponent's balls to the pallino to determine the score. Once, her mother said, she was almost disqualified when she wasn't on the field on time. Another time, she got very upset when she didn't get to pick the green set of balls, her favorite color.

"I really think you have more emotions to deal with [in] a learning disability," her mother said. But she tries to remind Brittany to be patient and that eventually things will come together.

"They feel the pressure absolutely," she said. She reminds her daughter in every competition to keep trying. Brittany would sometimes get frustrated when she didn't win during competitions so they would borrow a bocce set from the school so her daughter could practice on her own time.

On Saturday, the practice paid off.

During the game Saturday morning against 20-year-old Amy Walker, Walker's mother, Shirley, said of Janson, "the girl from Baltimore is pretty good."

After her win, Brittany Janson said, "I couldn't even sit down. My legs were like shaking," before hugging her mother.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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