Middletown Special Olympics fill Barnitz Stadium with joy

The venue changed but the joyous emotions didn’t Wednesday as Middletown’s Special Olympics took place for the first time in Barnitz Stadium.

The annual event usually held at the track stadium on Middletown High School’s campus was forced to move this year because of the massive construction and renovation project that will see a new middle school and expanded high school by 2018.

For the school system’s special needs children and their families, holding the event in the city’s premier sports facility only made the smiles and squeals of excitement bigger.

A crowd of more than 400 — including more than 100 participating children and dozens more who watched — spread throughout the stadium. Those whose challenges prevented them from taking part in the track competition and other games were still honored by being part of a pre-event parade around the stadium led by the high school’s marching band.

And for only the second time in the event’s history, skydivers were part of the opening ceremonies, delivering a giant American flag from the sky before landing on stadium’s football field.

A FIRST: Skydivers mark start of Middletown Special Olympics

Surrounding the event, which was sponsored by nearly three dozen local businesses, restaurants, city departments, community organizations and service groups — were games, activities, information tables to entertain and assist families and care-givers of the youngsters.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries.

Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world — including local, national and regional competitions, adding up to more than 94,000 events a year.

Though primarily a Middletown school event, it includes many parts of the Butler County city community, said school officials.

“It’s a community event and it’s been great,” said Brad Fletcher, Middletown Schools Special Olympics coordinator. “Middletown really shines with this and there are a lot of great people here today.”

Among them were 50 student volunteers from the high school to encourage and cheer on the special needs students as well many volunteers from local special needs agencies such as Middletown’s Abilities First.

“This (event) is very important for the special needs community as well as the entire community because this shows people working at their full potential and when people work at their full potential we have a more prosperous community,” said Debbie Alberico, director of marketing and development for the non-profit school and learning center that serves more than 800 special needs children and adults.

“This lifts up the entire special needs community,” Alberico said.

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