Special athletes sparkle in Girard | News, Sports, Jobs

GIRARD – When it comes to getting around quickly, you could say that Maryjane Dunning followed in a relative’s footsteps – though one left a few more tracks than the other.

“I always wanted to do this,” Maryjane, 14, of Youngstown, said. “My grandmother is a marathon runner and ran in all (the) continents.”

Suffice it to say that Maryjane may not be a world runner, but was thrilled to settle for a single track to earn a gold medal in the 100-meter walk – something she did during the 11th annual Special Olympics Track & Field gathering Saturday at Girard Arrowhead Stadium, 200 S. Highland Ave.

The event’s main sponsors were the Girard-Liberty Rotary Club, Fairhaven Special Olympics and the Girard City School District. Several hundred spectators and dozens of volunteers helped cheer on the athletes.

Special Olympics seeks to provide all-year sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-style events for those with various challenges to further develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and share their gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other athletes and the community , according to Special Olympics’ mission statement.

Maryjane, who attends the Potential Development Center in Youngstown, recalled having earned a medal during her first year of cheerleading. In addition, she received plenty of encouragement to participate in Saturday’s games from her mother and others, said Maryjane, who also took part in the 100-meter run and a relay race.

An estimated 160 athletes from Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties participated in the men’s and women’s softball throw, 50-, 100-, 400- and 1,500-meter runs, shot put, long jump and mini-javelin throw competitions. Despite the threat of rain, the event took place under partly cloudy skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s.

The five teams that made up the family-friendly competition were the Ashtabula County Lakers, Columbiana County Comets, Fairhaven Bulldogs, Mahoning Public Warriors and the Potential Development Pirates.

Two of the Pirates who were happy to include medals with their athletic attire were Billy Odem, 12, and Ricky Morlan, 14, both of Youngstown. Billy and Ricky earned a silver medal and two gold ones, respectively.

“This is something I could be good at,” Ricky said when asked what motivated him to be in the event. “It makes me feel confident.”

For his part, Ricky ran or walked in the 50- and 800-meter competitions. He also enjoys participating in sports, especially track and field, he added.

“I want to lose weight,” Billy said with a chuckle, referring to his primary reason for being part of the Special Olympics.

Football and basketball are among his favorite sports, said Billy, who listed the Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers as his top teams.

Bo Greene, Fairhaven’s athletic director, said the most popular events among the athletes were the boys and girls softball throw and 100-meter run. Nevertheless, the intangible benefits were just as important – if not more so – than silver, gold or bronze, added Greene, who was also the event’s Trumbull County coordinator and is a former Niles High School track coach.

“It’s more of a spirit of competition for these guys,” he said.

Another valuable aspect of the event was giving participants an opportunity to experience added enjoyment and a closer sense of normalcy after two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns and stay-at-home edicts, all of which canceled the Special Olympics for the past two years.

Greene also wished to thank Jack Muransky and Kim Husk for their assistance in volunteering for the occasion.

Also, Saturday’s Special Olympics was in memory of the late Randall Randy Suchanek, who died July 28, 2020, at age 69. Suchanek had served as the Girard-Liberty Rotary Club’s president and assistant treasurer and was a Special Olympics event co-founder.

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