By Curtis Carden
With more than 400 athletes in attendance at the Mountain State Health Alliance (MSHA) Mini Dome, Unicoi County was well represented during the annual Area 3 Upper East Region Special Olympics held on the East Tennessee State University campus Friday, April 29.
Athletes from the Valley Beautiful, including Unicoi County High School, Unicoi County Middle School and Unicoi Intermediate School, took part in the opening ceremonies for the “Parade of Athletes” before taking to the field for their different events.
“We have male and female students here from fourth to 12th grade,” UCMS principal Jordan Simmons said during the event. “This is just an incredible day. There’s an incredible atmosphere over here. It’s great to see the kids being so excited and trying so hard. It’s so uplifting to come over here and see it and know this is representing our schools and our school system.”
Unicoi, Carter, Johnson and Washington counties, which make up Area 3, were each represented and received a vast amount of support from fans in attendance as they paraded to the middle of the field for the kickoff event.
Prior to the opening address, Marcus Grant, from the Brother’s Keeper program based out of Washington County, led more than 100 runners for the torch-bearing ceremony.
Various agencies participated in the torch run of 2016, including the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson City Police Department, Murray Guard – Nuclear Fuels Services, MSHA security, Washington County 911, Camp CliffView, Tennessee Highway Patrol, TDOC, Johnson City Medical Center, ETSU, Jonesborough Police Department and Washington County-Johnson City EMS.
After Area 3 thanked their sponsors (ETSU, Just-Store-It, Johnson City Power Board, CitiGroup, Siemens, Horton Sports and school systems and family members), then ETSU head football coach Carl Torbush declared the games open for competitors.
Once the games were underway, athletes from Unicoi County competed in various races, softball throws and wheelchair-accessible events.
Unicoi Intermediate teacher Joe Knight was on hand for his first trip to the Olympics and assisted children in races, just like other members of the county faculty were able to do during the event.
“This is a great experience for these kids,” Knight said. “Some of themdon’t have the opportunity to compete in some of the sports offered, so this gives them a great opportunity to be part of a team.”
The comradery shown from the Blue Nation was a sight to see, according to Knight.
“It’s great to see the three (county) schools mesh together for this event,” he added.
The motto, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” rang true for every athlete in attendance. As far as next year is concerned, the Mini Dome can expect a larger contingent of the Blue Nation, Simmons said.
“We want every kid at our schools to feel valued, feel loved and feel cared for,” he said. “Not just from the adults. These are relationships we want to foster for our students. One of things we talked about for next year is to make this a bigger event for our student body. Right now, I would bet around 99-percent of our students back in Erwin don’t even know this is going on today.
“This is something our kids need to see. The athletes competing today go to the sporting events in town and cheer them on and these kids deserve this kind of support,” Simmons continued. “Knowing the kids we have in Unicoi County, they would embrace it and love being over here to support.”