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EDITORIAL: Special Olympians make us proud

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 8/14/2018

Aug. 14--Three cheers for a group of Northeast Mississippi athletes who have made our region proud on the state and national level recently.

Five residents from Northeast Mississippi qualified to represent Team Mississippi during last month's Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. They each performed admirably and came home with national recognition for their efforts. Three of them won gold medals.

Gregory Hutson of Tupelo won gold in freestyle swimming, Jasper McKnight of Pontotoc won gold in track and field relay, and Taylor Rosenthal of Shannon won gold in unified partner golf.

Meanwhile, Gabby Burns of Jumpertown won ribbons for singles and doubles bocce, and Madison Dennis of Saltillo took home a bronze medal in flag football.

Hutson narrowly missed bronze in the backstroke, and McKnight won bronze in the 200-meter dash and a seventh-place ribbon in shot put.

The Special Olympics program allows a group of individuals who are often not in the limelight to show off their talents and abilities. The Northeast Mississippi delegation was among 31 Mississippi athletes to compete in the national competition. Team Mississippi claimed 23 gold medals, two silvers and six bronze medals.

Monday's Daily Journal featured a profile story about Hutson's accomplishment, reported by Michaela Gibson Morris. The 28-year-old Tupelo man with Down syndrome trained for the competition for a year. He worked out in the pool and the weight room two to three days a week and also had extra lessons with instructor Alex Knight to work on his technique.

He also participated in the Challenger League, an exceptional program offered by the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department and under the oversight of Leigh Ann Mattox.

The program is open to those with physical and mental disabilities ages 5 and up and offers basketball, softball and soccer.

Mattox also takes a group of Challenger League athletes to the Mississippi Special Olympics, where they have the opportunity to qualify for the national competition.

Special Olympics provides a competitive outlet that many of the these athletes with intellectual disabilities don't get through other avenues. It also gives them a sense of independence, and creates an opportunity for the athletes and their families to interact with peers facing similar challenges.

"It was a life-changing experience for us," Hutson's father, Greg Hutson said. "It was so much more," than just a race.

We salute the coaches like Mattox, who give so much of their time to make these athletes' dreams a reality, as well as the 10,000 volunteers who worked at the USA Games to provide the athletes with a platform.

Most importantly, we salute the athletes for their hard work, for their achievements and for being national ambassadors for Northeast Mississippi.

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(c)2018 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)

Visit the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) at www.djournal.com

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