CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
With a gold medal around his neck, Kellen Ketcham was all smiles Friday during the Southwest Area Special Olympics Spring Games.
Ketcham, 26, of Neosho, was among more than 450 athletes who competed at Carl Junction High School throughout the afternoon.
Hundreds of family members, friends and volunteers also attended to cheer on the athletes by holding signs and shouting words of encouragement at each sporting event.
Ketcham’s mother, Madaline, said he has been practicing twice a week for several weeks to prepare for the spring games.
“He has been in Special Olympics since he was in fifth grade,” she said.
Ketcham said he competed in standing long jump, shot put and the 50-meter dash.
“I just have fun doing it all,” said Ketcham, who goes to Special Olympics events several times a year. He also competes in bowling and basketball.
“I love it, because they’re excited whether they win or whether they lose,” his mother said. “They’re the stars today, and they need to be.”
The athletes competed in running, softball throws, shot put and other sporting events for several hours on Friday, and at the end of each round participants were awarded medals.
Young athletes, ages 3 to 7, also had an area to participate in activities but were not yet old enough to qualify for the Special Olympics.
Stevie Lain, program coordinator for the Southwest Area Special Olympics, said the athletes who placed at the area competition will advance to the state competition in Columbia.
Lain said about 200 volunteers helped out on Friday, and it was good to see the community get involved and raise awareness.
“It’s really exciting to see everyone competing and getting really excited about their medals,” she said. “This is their day to shine.”
Billy Joslen, of Carthage, and his wife have been volunteering with the Special Olympics for several years.
“We got involved in it because we have a granddaughter who’s in the Special Olympics,” he said.
His granddaughter, 12-year-old Baily Anderson, competed in multiple events, and Joslen got to take a break from volunteering to watch.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch all the kids,” he said. “It’s even more exciting to have one of your own competing.”
Becky and Rob Valdez, of Nevada, have four children, ages 19, 18, 16 and 13, who participated.
It’s the family’s fifth year at the spring games, and Rob Valdez helped the athletes prepare for a separate competition earlier this year by coaching basketball.
Valdez said the Special Olympics means a lot to his children.
“They get to have the camaraderie of being able to be around other kids with the same disabilities and interact with people who understand what they’re going through,” he said.
Madaline Ketcham said she’ll never forget the first time her son went to a state Special Olympics competition.
“He was running against a man who was a little older, and Kellen fell,” she said. “(The man) just stopped and went back and picked him up, and they finished the race. I think that’s the neatest memory I have ever had.”
Special Olympics athletes, ages 8 and older, from all over Southwest Missouri competed in the spring games. Those who qualified will participate in the state competition, which begins in late May.