Showing off their skills: Special Olympians compete in soccer tournament

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Daquan Hill-Bramwell darted out ahead of everyone, expertly dribbling the ball toward the goal.

The Fike High School student was one of 118 Special Olympians participating in a soccer tournament at Gillette Athletic Complex Thursday.

“We have four local events. This is the first for the school year,” said Kelsey Newsome, a special populations and senior coordinator for Wilson Parks and Recreation. Newsome is Special Olympics coordinator for Wilson County.

Daquan is among those students who have been working hard on their dribbling, passing and shooting in preparation for the tournament that brought together students from Fike and Hunt high schools, Forest Hills and Toisnot middle schools and Winstead and Jones elementary schools.

“They look forward to this every single event,” said Shannon Goings, special education teacher at Fike High. “They are very excited. They have been practicing, so we are really hoping for a win today. They are competitive. It’s awesome.”

And win they did. Fike ended up taking home the big trophy for the high school division. Toisnot students brought back the middle school division trophy. All participants brought home ribbons.

According to Newsome, individual skills are worked on well in advance of the big event.

“We go to the schools and teach the individual skills that correspond with the sport,” Newsome said. “They work on it for about six to eight weeks and then they come out here and perform it.”

Bobbi Mallol, an occupational therapist who serves eight schools in Wilson County, was along the sidelines to cheer on the participants.

“This particular activity gives the students an opportunity to shine with their peers that have like abilities and like disabilities,” Mallol said. “It gives the parents a chance to come out and see their kids and participate in an event that anybody can participate in, so it’s great.”

Newsome organizes a basketball event in January. A large track and field event is held in April, which is the large competition many people associate with Special Olympics in Wilson. That is followed by a volleyball event at the end of May.

Most of the participants come from the Wilson County Schools.

“The cool thing is instead of competing against their classmates, they are competing against people of the same ability level and age level throughout the entire county,” Newsome said.

Newsome said a big part of the program is to introduce competition to the Special Olympians.

“That is a big part of Special Olympics,” Newsome said. “We want them to realize that while we want everybody to do the very best that they can, sometimes that means we get first place. Sometimes it means we get fifth place. That is a big sense of accomplishment, realizing that they can take something, work on it and then come out here and see their friends from other schools.”

Competitors get to showcase their skills and the events create a sense of community and an opportunity for socialization.

“You will see kids when they recognize one another,” Newsome said. “It’s pretty cool. It puts a smile on your face for sure.”

Newsome said lunch Thursday was provided by Jersey Mike’s Subs in the Westwood Village Shopping Center.

“They are our community partner that we love so much,” Newsome said. “They donated all of the lunches for the participants, teachers and volunteers today. They also came out to help us hand it out. They are just fantastic. They had it all organized. Jersey Mike’s always does a great job.”

Donations purchase the sporting equipment along with the trophies and ribbons.

“None of these athletes get charged anything to come,” Newsome said.

Anyone who would like to support the Special Olympics can go online to sonc.net, the Special Olympics North Carolina website.

“You can type in Wilson County and it will pop right up with my contact information,” Newsome said.

Newsome can also reached by calling the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department at 252-246-1143.