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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Special athlete Carrie Epps received a lot of attention from her Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School friends at the Area 15 Special Olympics held at Midland Valley High School on Friday.
Seventh-graders Megan O’Banion and Deanna McCord served as her buddies during the Parade of Schools and other activities, but this is nothing new. Megan likes being a member of the school’s Buddy Club with Carrie.
“People don’t realize how much they affect your life,” Megan said. “Before being in the Buddy Club, I don’t think we really understood what it is to be friends with somebody who has special needs. She is incredible, and I enjoy being her buddy. I won’t trade it for the world.”
Last year, Deanna served as the buddy of Ezzie Cortez throughout the year. Ezzie went on to Midland Valley last fall and Deanna misses her. Still, Carrie has impacted her life, too.
The annual event drew more than 700 special needs children and adults from Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties, which comprise Area 15 of the S.C. State Olympics program. About 1,000 volunteers participated in the annual event – among them are hundreds of volunteer buddies.
They are assigned to the athletes and quickly become attached to them.
Ashton DeRemigio, a Midland Valley student, said, with a smile, that young Paris Marchant keeps her on her toes – just as she did last year.
“It’s great to watch the little kids,” said DeRemigio, a volunteer buddy throughout four years of high school. “Paris is really spirited and loves to have fun.”
Kathy Britton, a special-education teacher at Merriwether Middle School, brought seven of her students – including close friends Christian Rogers and Malik James. Malik has a nickname throughout the school – “LeBron.”
“I’ve been teaching for 39 years, including two decades in special education,” Britton said. “I’m retiring this year and love the kids and being with them at the Special Olympics. I’m sure I’ll find something else to do in education.”
Ann Marie Taylor, a former S.C. Teacher of the Year, has served as the Area 15 coordinator for the past two years. All the adults and the athletes were relieved that the rain held off.
“The kids look forward to this,” Taylor said. “We plan for this all year, and it’s such a good thing. We get as much out of this as the kids.”
The Special Olympics is modeled after the international games, complete with a Parade of Schools. Area companies host games for the youngest kids, as do Aiken women’s clubs that provide Very Special Arts.
Skylar Garrett, 10, and her twin sister, Jaiden, were born prematurely. Jaiden is fine, but Skyler has developmental disabilities and physical issues. She couldn’t ride a bike like her sister, until the AMBUCS organization donated a specialized three-wheel bicycle for her two years ago.
“This gives her wonderful freedom,” said Skylar’s mother, Brook. “This is such a special event for her today. Skylar loves doing the arts and crafts.”
Uyen Griffis, a preschool teacher at Hammond Hill Elementary School, relishes the chance to bring her kids to the Special Olympic Games. She felt as much joy at Midland Valley as she did watching the Winter Games at Sochi.
“We are proud that Aiken County supports athletes of all ages and disabilities through competitive sport events and the ‘Young at Arts’ activities at Special Olympics,” Griffis said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.