A softball thrown by Cody Hollingsworth soars high in the air before landing 30 feet away.
His family and a group of volunteers go wild, patting him on the back and cheering as the 20-year-old grins.
Hollingsworth, along with 511 other Wise County students with special needs, competed in the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday at Bull Memorial Stadium in Bridgeport.
“I think it’s neat because of what it does for the kids,” Cody’s father, Tim Hollingsworth, said. “When we first did, it I actually had to run the races with Cody to get him to do it when he was little. I would run backward, and he would run forward. Now he just goes out and runs.”
The annual event is primarily coordinated by Wise County Shared Services, which manages special education for nearly all Wise County schools.
Director Carla White said the day has changed since its inception 34 years ago. It’s more focused on fun now, rather than just competition.
“Things have changed for these kids through the years,” she said. “The expectations on state tests and things like that are more. This is the day that they just get to enjoy and be around their peers from other districts – no pressure. It’s all fun.”
While many students, like Hollingsworth, seemed to prefer track and field events, others flooded the face-painting booth and carnival games.
White said the Olympathon relies on volunteers, whose numbers almost rival the participants. Students from all Wise County schools and staff from several local businesses and churches helped out.
“We try to match one up with each kid,” she said. “Not everyone has a volunteer, but we’re very close. We have almost as many volunteers as we do participants. The Decatur Lion’s Club cooks about 1,200 hot dogs, and we eat about 1,200 hot dogs.”
Tim Hollingsworth said his family has made the Olympathon a yearly tradition. To them, and many other Wise County families, this day is big.
“For some of these kids, this is the closest thing they’ll ever get to a track-and-field type event with ribbons,” he said. “So for them, it’s special, and that’s what makes this day so special for me is just seeing what it does for the kids and how excited they are when they get to go get their awards.”