The Special Olympics torch arrived on the coast Friday, just in time for the state games. Police officers from Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Keesler Air Force Base carried the torch along Highway 90. It was the final leg of a journey, called the Mississippi Law Enforcement Torch Run.
During the past few weeks, police departments from every part of the state, had officers run with the Special Olympics torch.
This is the 15th year that Keesler will host the state games. The experience gives Keesler personnel a chance to enrich their lives.
For instance, a simple game of keep away in a Keesler Air Force Base parking lot featured athletes, coaches, and airmen. It was one of the priceless moments that make the Special Olympics so special.
Cherie DeRosa is one of the local coaches. "It's the biggest day of their lives," she said. "I mean they just get to compete, and get to see all their friends again that they don't get to see but once a year."
Friday was Special Olympics check in day. The 1,200 special athletes and coaches arrived at Keesler. Greeting them were almost 1,600 airman sponsors. According to Airman Aaron Jones, the event "really gives us a chance to have a lot of fun."
Playing host to a special olympian was a new experience for Jones. But he quickly got the hang of it. "I've been taking care of all the athletes as they've been coming in," he said. "And I had this one that really took to me already. And it hadn't even been five minutes. It was really special."
Keesler housing complexes had a carnival-like atmosphere. A face painting table was set up under a tree. Sand volleyball and basketball games broke out on nearby courts. And a few special olympians got into a squirt gun fight with their hosts. The airmen made sure the athletes would be entertained.
According to airman Darrell Whalen, "We've got a whole lot of airmen with video games. So the kids aren't going to be bored at all. And I think there are a lot of good people here to help them out."
One point became crystal clear to the airmen during check in. It won't matter if the athletes win or lose this weekend. Smiles and hugs will be a prominent part of the state special olympic games at Kessler Air Force Base.
Most of the Special Olympics athletic events begin Saturday morning.