There’s something absolutely magical about the Special Olympics.

In an era where reports of mass shootings, civil unrest and political rancor dominate nearly every news cycle, there might not be a better antidote for what is ailing society than spending a couple of hours in the sunshine watching 100 extraordinary kids having fun and being celebrated for simply doing their best.

The depth and breadth of the love on display at Statesville High School on Wednesday morning during the 2023 Iredell County Special Olympics Spring Games was palpable. The event was a powerful reminder that there are many good, caring people all around us. And they are easy to find. They are the teachers, teacher assistants, and school counselors who have devoted their lives to helping each of these special children achieve their full potential and live their best life. A small army of these selfless educators helped make the Spring Games a memorable experience. They were joined by community volunteers of all ages, including a large contingent of older Iredell-Statesville Schools students.

You could see that love in the expression of a young boy running along the track, pure joy spreading across his face as he zoomed ahead of his teammates during the Parade of Athletes. You could see it in the eyes of a proud dad watching his daughter do something as simple as kicking a ball a few feet. And you could see it in the quiet contentment of a mom stroking the hair of her little boy as he rested in her lap after a morning of fun. (Check out our Photo Gallery HERE.)

Bobbi Williams has been involved in Special Olympics for years as a parent and volunteer — and now as the local coordinator. She had to fight back tears as she watched Wednesday’s opening ceremony. It was hard not to be emotional when you saw those children’s faces light up as they entered the stadium to the sound of pump-up music and the cheering of supporters.

“No matter how many times I’ve done this — I get choked up every time, especially with the little ones,” Williams said. “We’re celebrating them.”

On Wednesday, she was also one of those proud moms as she watched her 26-year-old son Reece deliver the invocation and announce the participating schools. He was 100 percent awesome! Born with Down syndrome, Reece is a long-time participant in the Special Olympics, and he currently serves as a global messenger for the program that has given him so much over the years.

Williams expressed her appreciation for all of the educators who make the Spring Games a success — and for the work they do every day in our schools. “They are called to do this,” she said.

She also credited Statesville Recreation & Parks Director Richard Griggs and Program Kali Bailey for their “invaluable” contributions to the Iredell County Special Olympics program.

Griggs and Bailey, both of whom have previously served as local coordinators, relished the opportunity to get back on the field with the Special Olympians — especially after the Spring Games took a long pause due to Covid-19. 

“It was super-moving,” Griggs said.

“This is a fun day,” Bailey added. “This is definitely one of the best days.” 

While the Spring Games are one of the major events of Special Olympics, the event is only a small part of the year-round program. The young athletes train regularly and have local competitions. Some of the participants take part in invitational events and a few will qualify for the State Games in Raleigh. Along the way, they learn to be good teammates and how to be more independent. They also learn leadership skills.

There is no cost for families to participate. The program, which costs about $30,000 annually to operate, is funded by individual donations and the support of local businesses.

This is an effort we should all get behind. Special Olympics isn’t about a single day. It’s a year-round force for good in a world that desperately needs more good. Whether in the form of blue ribbons, high-fives or hugs, that force was on full display Wednesday morning at Statesville High. And it was a sight to behold. 

Mike Fuhrman is the editor of Iredell Free News.