More than 50 area law enforcement officers will hit the road early Friday for an honorary two-mile run from the Johnson City Police Department to East Tennessee State University to join in the opening ceremonies of the 44th annual Area III Special Olympics track and field games.
More than 375 special athletes will be watching for the officers’ arrival on the floor of the ETSUmini-dome and cheering as they make a ceremonial lap around the arena and bring their torch to the stage to light the cauldron that will signal the start of what for many of the competitors will be the most splendorous day of the year.
“This is all about bringing attention to Special Olympics, encouraging (the athletes) and encouraging the community to come out and support them,” said Tina Poore, a JCPD records clerk and a lead organizer of the local Law Enforcement Torch Run held annually in support of the Area III games. “We’ve done this for 15 or 20 years and its gotten bigger since 2008.”
This year about 50 officers from law enforcement agencies in Johnson City, Elizabethton, Erwin and Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties have signed up for the torch run, or about 20 more officers than last year.
“We follow the parade of athletes and do one lap around the dome with a designated athlete of honor at the front,” Poore said. “Then we have a couple of officers go on the stage and assist the athlete of honor lighting the cauldron that starts the games.”
Depending on the officers’ schedules, Poore said many try to stay for the games and help out where they can. “They had out the medallions because every athlete is a winner and they all get medallions. But usually they’re the huggers and cheerers because, unfortunately, not a lot of people attend and that’s what they need most.”
Chad Wampler, volunteer director of Area III Special Olympics, said, “All the athletes are in awe when they run in. Kids and the adults, too, they all look up to police officers.”
Wampler said the torch run is organized entirely by area law enforcement agencies without any assistance from Special Olympics. And to top that, “They conduct little fundraisers throughout they year to make a donation which is a huge help to us.”
This year, Poore said, the law enforcement agencies chipped in on a Special Olympics yard sale and raised a little more than $1,000 to donate.
“It’s is a wonderful thing and its something we feel we need to draw attention to. They do a lot of things without any recognition and that’s all we want to do, give some recognition to Special Olympics.”
Wampler noted that all Area III Special Olympics events are provided entirely by community donations and the work of hundreds of local volunteers who will help stage the games Friday, including volunteer teams from ETSU, Citi, AT&T, Siemens and other area corporations. Major financial support from the games is provided by the Johnson City Power Board, Atmos Energy and other corporate and individual supporters.
The torch run will begin at 9 a.m. Friday at the police department on East Main Street and follow State of Franklin Road to the mini-dome. Opening ceremonies will begin at 9:30 a.m., with the parade of athletes from schools and adult day programs from across Washington, Unicoi Carter and Johnson counties. Area high schools will provide a color guard and a drum corps to help open the games and Johnson City leaders and ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland will make welcoming remarks.
The games are free and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call Area III Special Olympics at 888-915-7227.