By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — Nearly 300 Catholics of all age groups from first-graders to grandparents came together in the spirit of giving. They answered a call to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ at the Special Olympics on Feb. 17 at The Citadel.
The Catholic volunteers came from nine parishes and two schools. They acted as scorekeepers, referees, spotters, timekeepers and cheerleaders to the athletes who competed in three events: basketball, badminton and power lifting.
From early morning to sunset, teen-agers kept their energy up cheering athletes at competitions and playing games in Olympic Town. Between events athletes kicked back in the entertainment ring that was Olympic Town. With games, karaoke, food and fellowship, the town was a place for athletes and volunteers to meet.
Volunteers also helped out before the big day. Elderly participants, who couldn’t make it to the event, lent their time working at the volunteer orientation, which was two weeks before the event.
Students from Charleston Catholic and from religious education classes made volunteer thank you cards. The cards said “Thank you for volunteering. You’re a life saver.” Attached to the card was a Life Saver candy and a note, “This card was made especially for you by,” to which the students added their names.
Five athletes from area parishes competed in the basketball competition. They were George Ramsey, Stevie Betros, Thomas Privitera, Amy Forrest, and Sam Hazeltine.
Ramsey is in his second term on the Special Olympics S.C. Board of Directors. He is the only athlete on a state board of directors and is a voting participant of the 18-member S.C. board.
The Special Olympics organization sponsors an Athlete Leadership Program in which athletes learn public speaking, details of the workings of the Special Olympics and are involved in the planning of the Special Olympic events.
During the year several regional events take place in the state. These events keep the athletes competing year round and act as qualifying events for the state games. There are four state games held each year, and the World Games are held every four years. States are given a quota for the World Games, according to Sue Maner, vice president of programs and public relations for the Special Olympics in South Carolina. Athletes must be a gold medal winner, but beyond that they are randomly drawn to meet the quota, she said.
The winter World Games are fast approaching. Athletes from the Spartanburg area will be competing in skiing and skating events in Alaska.
Referring to the Feb. 17 event, Edwena King Lassiter, volunteer services director for South Carolina, said, “We’ve never had that large of a turnout from one group (Catholics). They were there in a capacity of service. No matter what they were asked to do, they did it.”
The Charleston area volunteers made up nearly half of the 700 volunteers. (There were 650 athletes from across the state.) Area parishes and organizations that volunteered included the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary of the Annunciation, the Cathedral/St. Mary youth group, St. Patrick, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Joseph, Christ Our King, Stella Maris, Charleston Catholic School, Bishop England, Nativity and Immaculate Conception.
“We were everywhere,” said Marie Donnelly, director of youth ministry at the cathedral who has been involved with the Special Olympics for 26 years. She explained that the organization relies on the support of volunteers. This current group of Catholic volunteers, explained the youth director, poured out their hearts in doing whatever it took to support the athletes.
She said, “It really was the Catholic spirit alive and well.”