- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - Special Olympics athlete Stuart Ward is not afraid to say he is a great bowler.

“I am the man, dog. I am excited about bowling in the Special Olympics, and that’s why I am such a good bowler, because I do it like this,” he said, practicing his stroke. “I do it with my right hand, and I knock a lot of pins down.”

Stuart, a 34-year-old Sumter native, joined 168 other Special Olympic athletes, coaches and volunteers who were hailed recently at the USA Games Celebration Day at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia.

Those athletes and volunteers, including 16 from Sumter, will represent South Carolina at the 2014 Special Olympics National Games in Princeton, New Jersey, on June 14-21.

The Sumter athletes represent Lee, Sumter and Clarendon counties and were selected to go to the national competition after the statewide games in Greenville this year. A celebration earlier this month served as a pep rally for those games.

Each athlete’s name was called during the ceremony, and athletes stood and responded to applause in their own way.

Stuart stood up with a stoic expression and pumped his bowling hand high into the air as the flag football team, also from Sumter, erupted in a rhythmic applause. Cody Poston, a Sumter native and second-time national games bocce athlete, took a simple bow.

After the athletes were honored and two celebratory cakes were devoured, parents were able to ask questions of the coordinators.

Will TSA take my child’s wheelchair? How will we get to the games? What will the boarding process be like? What kind of identification do we need to bring to get on the plane?

For many of the athletes, it will be their first time flying on an airplane.

“I am just a teensy scared,” Stuart said about flying.

His dad, Daly Ward, wishes he could be there because he knows his son’s eyes are going to bulge when the plane takes off, but he is comforted knowing that Stuart will be with all of the other Sumter athletes, he said.

The athletes, special-needs students competing in the games, have been practicing together for two years, and their partners, normal education students, have been with them for the last year.

The strong bond they’ve developed has turned them into a tight-knit group of jokesters who tend to laugh about everything. It was especially evident when Jarquiris Brown, one of the Sumter High School students partnered with the athletes, referred to fellow partner and Sumter High student Coker Scott’s position on the state baseball championship team as the “pinch runner who likes to get picked off.”

The flag football team representing Sumter and the state calls themselves the Assassins, and though they are in the most competitive class, they have never lost, Coach Logan Raabe said.

“I was sitting at another table after the ceremony at lunch watching, and these guys interact perfectly with each other; it’s great,” Raabe said. “They joke around and pick on one another. It is awesome to have not only a great group of athletes, but a great group of people.”

The laughing didn’t stop after the ceremony, when the athletes huddled around a table and revealed the jerseys they will wear while playing in the National Games.

Dinell Anthony, last year’s Special Olympics Athlete of the Year, unfolded his jersey. It was blue with his last name and the number 21 painted on the back.

“You got Marcus Lattimore’s number,” someone shouted at him.

A huge grin rolled over his face as he held it across his chest.

“They don’t care what they look like, they don’t care what people think of them; they are out there to do them and have fun,” Scott said. “They have one goal, to win gold.”


Information from: The Sumter Item, https://www.theitem.com

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