Going for Gold

Special Olympians go for the gold in Biloxi – Published in the Sun Herald

By PRISCILLA LOEBENBERG — Special to the Sun Herald

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE — The opening ceremony of the Special Olympics was rained out Friday, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 1,000 athletes who took part in the Mississippi Summer Games at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi on Saturday.specialoly5

Thousands of fans, family members, coaches, caregivers and friends came to the Coast to cheer on the Special Olympians as they competed in track and field, tennis, golf, sailing, aquatics and other events.

Each athlete was assigned an airman and Air Force families who gave them the celebrity treatment while they were on base.

James Perkins, a competitor from Oxford, spent the rainier part of the weekend playing pool and foosball with airman Art Paz.

“He keeps running the tables,” Paz said of Perkins’ billiards skills. “He’s just great at everything.”

Paz is just out of boot camp and said he was a little nervous about his role in the Special Olympics at first, but as soon as he met Perkins he knew “this is going to be awesome.”

This is Keesler’s 27th year to host the games. Maj. Tracy Snyder said the airmen may get more out of the experience than the athletes. She said it is a great opportunity, which allows them to bond with exceptional people.

“It’s an experience they carry with them the rest of their lives,” she said.

The most popular events are track and field and bocce ball, said Mississippi Special Olympics President Helen Parish. She said the athletes always love the opening ceremonies, but they didn’t mind too much that the event was rained out.

“They get so much pleasure at even the smallest things and they enjoy their time with the airmen so much, it didn’t matter,” she said.

Athlete Heather Frazier of Jackson was throwing strong at the bowling competition early in the day.

“It’s all strikes,” she said.