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Teacher, students reunite at Special Olympics

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The Special Olympics oath rang true to local athletes as everyone came away a winner during the Tennessee Area 3 Special Olympics held at the ETSU Mountain States Health Alliance Mini-Dome on Friday, May 1.
Over 400 student athletes took to the ETSU campus to compete in different events, including a sprint, tennis and softball throws. Area 3 athletes are comprised of Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Carter counties. Unicoi County High School sent its top athletes to the event to showcase their talents.
“We’ve been going since before I was the special education supervisor,” said Dr. Chris Bogart, principal at UCHS. “Our guys have prepared, gone out and done their events and have had students help them prepare and we have students out here today to help and cheer them on.
“The teachers are amazing and they look forward to this all year long. They spend a lot of time talking about it and showing the athletes what they need to do.
“To be honest with you, we have some veterans. Some of the guys have been here three to four years now, so they’re well-versed in what they’re doing. I know it is exciting for them and a highlight of the year for them to come over here and do this.”
Three special education instructors help spearhead the charge, according to Dr. Bogart, including Jennifer Estepp, Christina Epperson and Vicki Richardson. A host of instructional assistants also aided in the endeavor.
Epperson also serves the committee with the Area 3 Special Olympics, Bogart said, and stays busy with activities after her day at UCHS.
“She’s a tremendous asset for us to have someone that’s so deeply involved in the process,” he added.
Kaitlynn White, from UCHS, who helped anchor the opening ceremonies of the event by singing the national anthem, was met with a thunderous applause from the participants.
The event was also a way for a former UCHS instructor to keep a promise: Julian Allen helped with the event before moving on to the Blount County school district as the athletic director at Heritage Middle School and coach.
“No matter how far away I am, I’ll make sure to come up every single year as long as they are in school,” Allen said. “I made a promise to them before I left. Anything they had going on, I’d be there. They were so good to me as a teacher in Unicoi County … it is an honor to come back and be here with them.
“I love giving back to them. Unicoi County is a great community and it was my first professional job. I grew to love the kids there. They’re very special and near to my heart.”
Olympian Garret Edwards and Allen also grew to share a bond over the years.
“Me and coach Allen became buddies back in 2012,” Edwards said. “He’s been my buddy ever since then and it’s good to have him as a friend.”
Edwards emerged as a leader for his teammates. The recent UCHS graduate drew support from his relatives and friends, he said, leading to one of his most successful outings in the softball throw and in the sprint.