By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer
Trophies for Fort Gibson Schools’ Special Olympics athletes were shiny, but the personalized cookie cakes stole the show.
Anthony Mayo, a freshman at Fort Gibson, said the cookies were really good.
“It tastes even better because it has my name on it,” Anthony said.
He was joined by 19 Special Olympics athletes for a banquet Friday night, honoring their performances through the year. They ate pizza, embraced and laughed and collected trophies. After the awards ceremony, the athletes got to try their hand at an inflatable bounce house.
Anthony had a simple answer for an event he called “fun.”
“I get to be a part of it,” he said. “I get to be a part of something. I wouldn’t want to back out of it.”
The Special Olympics season begins when school starts in the fall, and it doesn’t end until school ends for the summer. Through the season the athletes participate in events such as bowling, basketball, and track and field. Through it all they are led by coach Roger Stacey and assistant coaches Melody Stacey and Lisa Walkingstick, with additional help from Michelle Mackey during basketball season.
Melody Stacey, who has been helping coach for nine years, said the experience is a perfect way to end the season.
“It has been tremendous fun this year,” Melody Stacey said. The most rewarding thing is seeing their smiles stretch from ear to ear. And tonight we have the trophies and cookies for them.”
Roger Stacey said the second most rewarding thing about coaching is watching the athletes’ progress.
“You get to see how much they grow from year to year,” he said.
A group of 13 athletes went to the state track and field meet Thursday. They each competed in the softball throw and 50-meter dash, and several of them brought home gold, silver and bronze medals in each event.
Honesty Walker, 8, was too young to participate in the official games, but she participated in the fun games, the obstacle course and the parade around the track, and for her involvement brought home the Young Athlete Star of the Future award.
Michelle Van Zyl, whose daughter Caitlin won a silver medal in the softball throw, said the banquet was a great way for parents and families of special needs children to connect and chat.
“This community is very close-knit,” Van Zyl said. “We just moved from Missouri, and they didn’t have the sort of special education programs we’ve found here. It’s a small town and a small school, but it’s been the best we’ve seen in education and special education. Our kids have never been happier.”
Caitlin Van Zyl agreed with her mom.
“I like this school a lot,” she said. “I’m having fun tonight. I had fun in Stillwater too.”
Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat@ muskogeephoenix.com.