Sophomore Tyler Barton, a student at Lynchburg-Clay High School, recently reached out to me over social media and asked if I would be interested in writing a column if he gave me an idea. At first, I will admit, I was skeptical, but I figured why not hear him out. After he asked me what he would like to see me write about, I knew that someway, somehow, I had to get this into print.
Tyler told me that he has been working with the Lynchburg-Clay Special Olympics team for awhile now and wanted to see if he could get them into the paper for all the hard work and dedication that they give. He told me that he thinks that sometimes they get overlooked because what they do, “doesn’t match up to high school sports.” I asked him to get me in touch with the coach of the team and on Wednesday afternoon, I was able to meet the team, watch them get warmed up, run and do some stretches, as well as talk to the coach, Lori Newman.
The seven athletes will be hopping on a bus on Friday afternoon and traveling to the University of Rio Grande to compete in the Region Area 7 Special Olympics Spring Games. They will be competing in three events which are: the 50-meter dash, the softball throw, and shot put. Alexander Whaley, Cordell Meddock, Shane Meddock, Brendin Whaley, Matthew “Matty” White, David Jones, and Alexus Lunsford make up the Lynchburg-Clay Olympic team.
A select number of these athletes will go on to participate in a the weekend long Summer Games held at The Ohio State University in June.
Tyler Barton is an assistant coach for the Olympics team. He helps out the athletes as they train for the 50-meter dash and softball throw. I asked Tyler what it was like working with the athletes and he told me he has had a lot of fun working with them.
“My uncle has cerebral palsy, so I think that is what has drawn me to to do this kind of work,” Tyler said. “These kids are so much fun to work with. They are all so very humble. It makes you realize how lucky you are. Many people look down on them, but they’re just like us, only a lot more loving.”
Head coach Lori Newman said that the kids on the team are always excited about the Olympics.
“Usually, right after we get back from Christmas break, I have at least two of the kids start asking me when we’re going to start training again,” Newman said. “They get really excited. This is a great group of kids that works really hard and get along really well. I know that they’re all really excited and looking forward to competing on Friday.
“With the Special Olympics, everyone gets a place,” Newman continued when asked about the Olympics specifically. “There are three to five athletes in an event, depending on how many are in that age group. They have an Olympic-like ceremony after each heat and everyone gets up on the blocks and they get their picture taken. It’s just like the Olympics. They have an opening ceremony, play songs, and it’s really just a lot of fun.
“Our students would not have this opportunity if it weren’t for the support of the parents, local volunteers and businesses who donate time and funds to the Highland County Special Olympics Program through county fundraisers,” Newman said about the overwhelming amount of support from the community and the school. “The Lynchburg-Clay School District staff, administration and school board have supported our athletes for many years and continue to make it possible for our athletes to compete beyond the local level.”
I also had the opportunity to speak with a couple of the athletes on the team when I went to meet them. All of them were excited about their upcoming Spring Games and I was also taught the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.”
One athlete, Cordell Meddock, shared with me his opinion of the Olympics after coming in from practicing the shot put with assistant coach Travis Shaffer.
“The Olympics are so much fun,” Meddock said with a smile. “You get to workout, run, and have fun while training. You also make a lot of friends.”
He then proceeded to flex and make coach Newman feel his bicep after throwing the shot put 28 feet.
Robert Stegbauer is a staff-reporter for the Times-Gazette. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at RStegbauer.