I don’t visit high school football stadiums on many Friday mornings but I gladly made an exception last week. Melissa ISD hosted the 6th annual MISD Special Olympic Track Meet and there was no way I was going to miss it again this year.
See, last year I was itching to go but there was absolutely no way I could make it. The fact that I didn’t get to go ruined my day and caused me to utter a promise that it wasn’t going to happen again the next year.
And so it didn’t.
Even if you have no involvement with Special Olympics whatsoever, even if you don’t know anyone there or have no special needs family members, you should still make the time, jot it down on your calendar, shave the date into your hair, whatever you need to do as a reminder to attend this event. I don’t want to break out into a whole host of cliches here, but it really is a triumph of the human spirit. To see kids and teenagers who battle and struggle to do the things we take for granted, to see them running the track, jumping over a bar and lining up for the ball tosses makes me realize how whiney I am and how much I take for granted.
First things first: Melissa ISD and MISD Special Olympic Track Meet Coordinator Amy Burchett do this thing up right. The Melissa police and fire departments work the event and give the kids a whole lot of support. The police officers even wrap the medals around the winners’ necks on the podium, which was a big deal to these kids. When they come into the stadium the Olympians walk between two rows of students and supporters clapping, cheering and giving high-fives to anyone who wants them. That is a big, big deal to these kids; I know, I saw it on their faces.
The actual competition starts off with a Parade of Athletes. Each school walks the front section of the track in front of the grandstands, waving to the crowd and cheering right along with them. Then — and this is always hilarious to watch — it’s the Mascot Race. Mascots from the high schools line up to hot foot it down the track in front of a whole bunch of really excited kids. Word has it Birdie — the Melissa mascot — may have used an, ahem, “questionable,” item shaped peculiarly like a lasso in this year’s event. You’ll have to check the photos elsewhere for that, I’m staying mum on that one…
The true highlight of the event, however, is seeing kids overcome the odds and take up sports right alongside everyone else. Kids in wheelchairs, kids in walkers, children who wouldn’t ordinarily run 25 meters ran 25 meters.
I’m a pretty firm guy about most things. I don’t cry at a lot of movies, I don’t get sappy over baby photos and I don’t express my feelings all that often. So, imagine my surprise when I started to get misty eyed watching these special children Friday. Part of it was the thought of how hard they have to fight and how much they have to overcome that just got to me, and I was truly inspired to be a better person that day. The other part was watching the family support these kids enjoy. The parents who devote so much of their lives to making sure these kids are taken care of have my admiration. Some in the media throw out the term “hero” or “heroic effort” anytime someone guts it out in the final minute of a basketball game or surges through a linebacker for that last touchdown, but these people who devote their lives to making sure their kids are taken care of the best way possible, they’re the true heroes.
So, a tip of my hat to you, parents and athletes, and thanks for inspiring me that day. And another tip of the hat to everyone who put this event on and worked the whole day to make it special for all these athletes, and this includes the Melissa ISD honors students who helped light up the faces of just a few kids on a sunny Friday in North Texas.