GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Gulfport Sportsplex was filled with people taking part in the 13th Annual Buddy Walk. The walk, which benefits the Gulf Coast Down Syndrome Society, had its largest attendance this year. Those who came out contributed to the society's mission to share information, strength and hope to those who either have or know someone with down syndrome.
Cindy and Eddie Hansen's son shows his love for the event in a smile.
"Dakota is 15 he'll be 16 in December. And we have been at the Buddy Walk from almost the very beginning here in South Mississippi," attendee Cindy Hansen said.
Dakota brought a crew of family and friends under the team name Dakota's Bearcat Buddies. His team joined several others in the walk that benefits people with down syndrome and their families. The event included live music by the Miles Sharpe Band, games, vendors, plus an award ceremony where a college scholarship was given to Pascagoula native Kelsi Dungan.
Organizers said this year's attendance took a big step up.
"We have our biggest crowd ever preregistered. We had over 4,000 people preregister for this event so we are little bit overwhelmed, but so excited," said Kim Duffy with the Gulf Coast Down Syndrome Society.
Many in the crowd wore gray shirts which included the Gulf Coast down syndrome society's slogan: Building a Bridge to a Brighter Future, One Family At a Time.
"My uncle Michael Crane has down syndrome and we're out here today supporting Tabis team and I think this is an opportunity to show these people, special angels how much we love them," said attendee Lashuneda Williams.
Hansen said the event allows families to discuss ways to overcome issues they encounter every day.
"We have challenges, some of them physical. Some of them are emotional challenges," Hansen explained.
Hand in hand they walked, played and danced to bring the Gulf Coast Down Syndrome Society's goal of bringing a brighter future to those with down syndrome to life.
Organizers for the event said they hope to raise at least $30,000. That money will go towards scholarships for family members to educate themselves on down syndrome and will also fund college scholarships and extracurricular activities for those with down syndrome.