By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Those who could, walked around the track at Vance Air Force Base in the early morning chill, while those who couldn’t were wheeled or carried.
They smiled and waved in response to the applause and cheers of those who assembled on the track’s periphery to welcome them.
The occasion was Thursday’s opening ceremony for the 44th annual Cherokee Strip Area 6 Special Olympics, the 24th consecutive year the event was held at Vance.
The nearly 200 athletes assembled competed in 16 track and field events, the final qualifying meet for the state Special Olympics Summer Games, set for May 8-10 at Oklahoma State University.
But, the competition also followed the Special Olympics oath, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” in which the athletes were led by Special Olympian Konner Hromas, who also received the annual Area 6 Special Olympics Spirit Award, given to the athlete who faces each challenge and meets it with a sense of accomplishment.
More than 200 volunteers from Vance helped put on the event.
“The hours we put in, they’re all worth it,” said Capt. John Powers, co-coordinator of the event along with 1st Lt. Branden Gulick. “It all comes down to the athletes. We’re just trying to make the best experience we can for them. However much time that takes, we’re willing to give it.”
Col. Darren James, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, said the Special Olympics represents another example of the close partnership between the base and Enid.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to make the connection with the city of Enid,” he said. “When we talk about developing professional airmen, our community involvement is a big part of it.”
Guest speaker Steve Chard, Enid High School head football coach, commended the assembled athletes on their willingness to compete.
“It takes some guts to get out and compete,” Chard said. “It’s easy to stay home and turn that TV on and maybe not go compete and go train, but the fact that you’re here today says a lot about you as an athlete.
“At the end of the day you get the freedom and the joy that comes with competing, and I’m very proud of you for doing that today.”
Prior to the competition, Area 6 Special Olympics annual awards were handed out in several categories. Coach of the year is Ruthie Shurtz, volunteer of the year is Mary Batson, family of the year is Danny and Moriah Maxey, Connor and Corey Ganz and the athlete of the year is Jolina Hoss.
Then it was on to the meat of the day, the throwing, running and jumping, after James declared, “Let the games begin.”
“The feeling that they get, the feeling that we get, is absolutely incredible,” said Powers. “You can’t buy that experience, it only comes with something like this.”