Mabank Special Olympics still going strong after 17 years

Posted by : Monitor Admin | On : April 14, 2017

By Erik Walsh
Monitor Staff Writer
MABANK–Friends, family and community members rallied around disabled athletes April 7-8 for the 17th annual Mabank Special Olympics.
The event grows every year. Teams from eight cities made their way to Mabank to compete. Participating areas include Mabank (28 participants), Tyler (68), Panola (5), Mexia (10), Kemp (23), Eustace (9), Canton (20) and Athens (20).
Event organizer Merritt Harpole manned the microphone and kept all the spectators informed. Harpole says the event is very important for both the competitors and spectators.
“The Special Olympics gives the special athletes an opportunity to compete with their peers,” Harpole said. “The comradery of the event is important to friends and family as well, because we all come together and see our loved ones succeeding and thriving.”
Harpole has been involved since the inception of the Mabank Special Olympics 17 years ago. He saw a need when Mabank teams traveled to other cities to compete.
“After that we created a Special Olympic track and field event here in Mabank and began inviting other cities to come here,” he said.
He also had a much more personal reason. Her name is Stephanie and she has Down’s Syndrome. Stephanie Harney is Harpole’s granddaughter. Stephanie first started competing in the 90s at the age of 8.
“Being involved in Special Olympics has been a very rewarding experience for her – and us,” he said.
Harpole said parent involvement is among the most important aspects of the Mabank Special Olympics success.
“I saw the need to get more parents involved and after they did, the team began growing,” he said. “When I started, we had eight athletes and today we have many more. What’s kept this going and growing is parent communication and involvement. My granddaughter is still competing today at 30 years old. It’s been rewarding for the athletes and all the adults involved, as well.
The past two years we have tried getting the high school students involved for an enrichment experience for them.” Unlike past years, the event was held on Friday (instead of Saturday) and Mabank students helped with concessions and were stationed around the track to cheer on the athletes as they circled the track.
Track and field events on Friday included javelin, high-jump, shot put, relays, soft ball throw and various dashes. Athletes returned on Saturday for the cycling events.