MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. -- The delegations of athletes marched — and some rolled on four wheels — into the gymnasium to raucous applause and cheers.
Thus began the Onslow County Special Olympics Basketball Skills Fall Games at the New River fitness center Friday.
More than 100 athletes from 10 schools and about 100 Marine Corps volunteers, plus other volunteers, onlookers and parents crowded into the gym.
“It’s a chance to show that Marines do care, that we support the community like they support us,” said first-time volunteer Cpl. Paul Gooden of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron aboard New River Air Station.
Then, with all of the pomp and circumstance worthy of any Olympic event, the ceremony began — even as other delegations continued to roll in.
There were the opening remarks from dignitaries including the Lt. Col. Tim Hanson, executive officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.
“Every year when the Special Olympics comes here, it gives me an opportunity to look over the Special Olympics charter. Somewhere in there it talks about empowering individuals to go beyond what they think they can do and I think that goes right in stride with what the Marine Corps does,” he said.
The national anthem was sung, in this case, by Tami Sokoloski, a local singer who once opened for Steven Curtis Chapman. She also sang a special song for the athletes, Whitney Houston’s “You Were Loved by Someone.”
“They were asking for volunteers and a few guys and I from my shop raised our hands to volunteer,” said water purification specialist Lance Cpl. Patrick Prince of Marine Wing Support Squadron 272 on MCAS.
Then, of course, there was the invocation followed by the reciting of the Athlete Oath read by Devonte Mendows of Swansboro High School.
“The athletes love to have the Marines volunteer,” said Dot Hochstrasser, coordinator for the Onslow County Special Olympics. “They look forward to having the Marines as their volunteers.”
The presentation of the torch came next to many cheers as Lisa White, also of Swansboro High School, carried the torch into the gymnasium with her volunteer.
“It’s an honor to be out here with these kids,” said Capt. Rob Brady, supply officer with the Headquarters Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune. “Especially during the holidays, everyone should be volunteering.”
After the closing remarks by Hochstrasser, the Games began. Athletes and their volunteers spread out to various areas of the fitness facility to practice their basketball skills.
“I thought it would be nice to come out here to show my support and to see the smiles on these kid’s faces,” said Lance Cpl. George Clark of MWSS 272.
They practiced shooting and passing skills with their volunteers and aides cheering them on.
Parent Dora Gaskin, a Marine spouse, was at the event with her son, Ronald, 17, who has been participating in the Special Olympics since he was eight years old.
“It gives him an opportunity to participate in an environment where he’s not judged by his abilities or disabilities. Here, everybody is a winner,” said Gaskin.
Later, for the fourth year of the six years that the Fall Games have been held at New River, Logan’s Roadhouse provided lunch to the hungry athletes. The restaurant donated all of the food for the event, and 12 staff members volunteered their time to show up “at the crack of dawn” to cook for the event, according to Julie Keoho, store marketing manager for Logan’s Roadhouse.
“Of all the place that we’ve been stationed, I love the Special Olympics in Jacksonville the best. It’s because they are so well organized,” said Gaskin. “It’s more than parent involvement here, it’s community involvement, it’s base involvement. Everybody supports these kids.”