Spring Games bring joy to Special Olympians, volunteers
BY DEBBIE PAGE
More than 350 Special Olympians of all ages, joined by over 500 volunteers, competed in the Iredell County 2019 Spring Games on Wednesday morning at South Iredell High School.
Athletes competed in walking and running races, softball throw, turbo javelin, standing and running long jump, wheelchair races, assisted walk, and more. Little ones enjoyed obstacle courses, coloring, and bubble free play.
The Statesville Recreation Department does the “lion’s share” of event planning and coordination under local Special Olympics Coordinator Kali Moore, according to Richard Griggs, director of the Statesville Recreation and Parks Department. Iredell County Recreation and Iredell-Statesville Schools are also important partners in putting on the event.
Dennis Williams, who coaches the athletes, presented a plaque recognizing the “inspiration, unconditional commitment, and dedicated service” of long-time coach and volunteer to the family of Tony Stikeleather, who was too ill to attend the games this year.
Involved in Special Olympics since 2004, Stikeleather “devoted countless hours of time to teach and provide opportunities to our Special Olympics athletes at the local, regional, and state,” said Williams, whose son Hunter learned to swim under Stikeleather’s coaching.
“He enjoyed coaching and cheering on all the athletes he coached,” Williams added.
Daughters Sarah Stikeleather, Kala Bryden and Hannah Elsonboss accepted the plaque on behalf of their father. Sarah later led the student athletes in the Special Olympics Pledge: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Williams also announced the creation of the Tony Stikeleather Award, which will be presented to an Iredell County Special Athlete who portrays the qualities that Stikeleather instilled.
Stikeleather also works for Iredell Statesville Schools in general maintenance at South Iredell High.
Several parents praised Stikeleather’s contributions to Special Olympics.
“As a mom and fellow coach, Tony is held in high esteem He has a passion for helping new athletes learn to swim," Bobbi Williams said.
Gayle Mitchell, a parent and chaperone, said she has watched the swim team grow over the years under Stikeleather's leadership. The team continues to take home many gold medals from state games in Raleigh.
Keith Smith, a Special Olympian from Olin, said: “Tony is a great coach and a special friend. He is always smiling and laughing and cheers us on in practice and competing.”
Chase Stroud, a former student at South Iredell High School and Special Olympics athlete, said, “Thanks to Tony for giving us courage and support both at South and on the swim team. You make us believe anything is possible.”
Lynn Kunkle led the invocation. “This is a day of joy to celebrate these athletes, their trainers, and all these who are involved in this games. ... Help us to treat each other with respect and love and to encourage one another,” she said.
The South Iredell MJROTC presented the colors, with Zaria Hancock performing the National Anthem. Tina Fleming, director of Basic Law Enforcement Training at Mitchell Community College served as torch bearer, accompanied by her BLET cadets.
Moore thanked platinum sponsors include Manheim-Statesville, GM Financial, Kiwanis Club of Statesville, Statesville Recreation and Parks. Gold sponsors are D’Laney’s Sports Bar, Iredell Health System, KM Electrical Heating and Air, McLelland’s Racing Team, The Wilson Foundation, and Walgreens.
American Renaissance School, Iredell County Parks and Recreation, and Shred South are silver level sponsors, with Audrey Bollero, Bill Ratcliff, Carrilon Assisted Living, Charles Ashe, Catherine Cash, Lomax and Associates of NC, McDonalds, Nancy Douglas, opus Financial Advisors, Will and Susan Fanjoy serving as bronze contributors.
Super Fan sponsors include Buffalo Storage, Carolina Mountain Sports, Friendship United Methodist, and Valerie Chambers.
Moore also thanked the many volunteers and organizations who came out to support and cheer on the athletes.