VALDOSTA -- Hundreds of students and volunteers participated in the 20th annual Georgia Special Olympics spring games on Thursday. After reciting the athlete's oath shortly after 10 a.m., the competitions were under way at McKey Park and the Valdosta Middle School track.

"It's exciting to see this community take on the challenge in offering those with intellectual disabilities the chance to benefit mentally and socially here," said Robert Yost, director of program services for Georgia's Special Olympics. "Normal people take it for granted that they can go out and play ... anytime they want. To be able to offer this for people with disabilities is a great thing."

More than 200 students and volunteers from about five counties within Area 15 participated in athletic events that included volleyball, standing and running long jump, 50 and 100 meter race, softball throw, accuracy kick and circle kick. Area 15 includes Lowndes County as well as Brooks, Echols, Clinch, Lanier, Cook, Berrien and Atkinson counties.

The Valdosta-Lowndes Recreation, Parks and Community Affairs Department hosted the event, which took several months to organize.

"It really takes a lot out of the staff, and we're very fortunate to have a strong one," said Brockey Brock, director of Valdosta-Lowndes Recreation. "As a director, I'm very proud of them."

Brock added that Valdosta-Lowndes County is one of the few locations in the U.S. States to have a therapeutic staff available that is funded by the government and the county.

"That in itself is just awesome," Brock said. "For the people that it serves, it's so important to provide hands-on support."

The therapeutic staff assists in training children and adults with disabilities. Kathy Wortham, recreation manager for Valdosta-Lowndes Recreation, said the therapeutic staff is dedicated to mentally and physically assisting its clients.

Once a week, the staff visits local schools to assist children and members train adult clients in sports such as basketball, volleyball and swimming.

"It's very rewarding to see all their help pay off," Wortham said. "It's about quality of life. Just like we enjoy doing things outside the day to day work or school world, so do they."

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