There were an abundance of happy faces under gloomy skies Wednesday morning as about 230 young students participated in the annual Special Olympics Delaware Kent County Soccer Skills Competition at the Charlton School in Camden-Wyoming. The participants competed in basic and advanced events such as dribbling, passing and shooting skills.
"This was an absolutely phenomenal day," said Christiana Beevenour, a teacher at the Charlton School and Special Olympics volunteer.
"Just about all of the kids gave a 100-percent effort, and they really enjoyed themselves. We were really happy with the parental and staff support today," she said.
Beevenour said the children were separated into small groups by ability in order for them to enjoy the full experience of playing soccer.
"Again this was great — the kids all really had a great time. You could see the happiness on their faces. It's not often they get a chance to participate in a sport or event that they don't normally get to participate in," she said.
While a number of games were played and lots of goals were scored during the day, everyone came out winners, as all of the athletes were each awarded a shiny, new medal. Many athletes added to their growing collections, while others, like Sophie M. of the Dover area, received her first medal.
"It was a lot of fun today," she said.
Sophie also said she would like to play soccer again, as well as other sports.
One of the volunteers, Branham Menard, a senior at Smyrna High School, said watching the young athletes was an amazing experience for him.
"I play basketball for Smyrna, and watching these children was very gratifying. It helps me see the ability these children have," Menard said. "It makes me appreciate the talent I have been given, and when my season starts, this will inspire me to give my best like I saw here today."
Menard said helping with this event will encourage him to push his teammates harder on the basketball court.
Special Olympics spokesman Jon Buzby said these athletes practiced for about eight weeks under the guidance of trained coaches to prepare for the day's competition.
"It is gratifying to see the children out on the fields, having fun, getting exercise and enjoying the experience," Buzby said.
Buzby said numerous competitions of all sizes are held across the state throughout the year for athletes and olunteers of all ages and abilities. The events include Summer Games, Fall Festival, Team Basketball Tournament and Bowling Tournaments.
A number of schools from southern New Castle County and Kent County participated in the soccer event, including Banneker Elementary, Brick Elementary, Caesar Rodney High School, Charlton School, Lake Forest Central Elementary, Kent County Community School, Middletown High School, Stokes Elementary and Welch Elementary.