Hundreds of adults and children will descend on three Lincoln County schools this weekend to compete in a Special Olympics basketball tournament.
North Lincoln High School, Pumpkin Center Middle School and East Lincoln High School will all host games starting at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. A pep band will entertain the crowd at North Lincoln prior to the games, and cheerleaders will take the floor at East Lincoln.
â€œWeâ€™re going to win!â€ said Olivia Leith, a cheerleader.
Special Olympics gives both children and adults with disabilities a place to show off their skills and make friends.
â€œIt boosts their self esteem and gives them more confidence so they can deal with society as a whole,â€ said Lisa Fraizer, coordinator of the Lincoln County Special Olympics.
This is the second year Lincoln County is hosting the basketball tournament, and itâ€™s the first year cheerleading is being considered a sport.
Teams from at least six counties are expected to participate, and officials are preparing for a total of 325 volunteers and athletes.
Lincoln County teams have held practice every Sunday this fall. Some of the players have been competing for years.
The most advanced players will compete at East Lincoln. Intermediate players will compete at Pumpkin Center, and beginning level players will compete at North Lincoln, which is expected to have the biggest crowd.
The event will be run by volunteers from all parts of the community including school and civic groups.
All the coaches who prepared the players for the event are also volunteers.
â€œI became a coach because I enjoyed it â€“ just seeing the kids when theyâ€™re playing, and their face lights up, just seeing that grin on their face, especially when they get a basket,â€ said Kay Sain, a coach and mother.
Before coordinating the event, Frazier was also a coach, and she still volunteers her assistance.
â€œI donâ€™t treat them any different than I treat the others â€“ the reason being because they donâ€™t want to be treated any different,â€ she said.
Participating in the Special Olympics helps many students develop life skills. This is especially true for athletes lucky enough to travel to tournaments.
â€œIt teaches them all sorts of real things,â€ said Frazier. â€œWhen we travel weâ€™re staying in hotels, theyâ€™re away from home, most of them are away from parents, and this teaches them a lot.â€
Special Olympics also gives athletes an emotional boost. Everyone who participates either gets a gold, silver or bronze medal, and those watching in the stand do their best to cheer on the teams.
â€œIf they have somebody to root for them, to tell them they can do it, I think that really hits the spot,â€ said Sain.
The public is invited to this weekâ€™s event, which is free. Frazier promises itâ€™s a joy to watch.
â€œWhether theyâ€™re winning or losing, they still have as much fun,â€ she said.
For the participants, itâ€™s something they look forward to all year.
â€œWe make friends on the team and on other teams as well,â€ said Jah-kwi Simpson, an athlete. â€œWe get the chance to show our real moves. We get a pure rush out of it.â€
For more information or to volunteer call 704-736-1017 extension 25110 or 704-308-1758.by Sarah Grano