OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - On Thursday, elementary students from area schools played in a kickball tournament that was meant to unify.
Students with special needs were teamed up with general education students for the big games.
"The younger that we get children competing alongside each other with and without intellectual disabilities, we're doing more than just sports. We're creating an environment of inclusion," said the Executive Director of Special Olympics Mississippi, Monica Daniels.
According to Daniels, the annual inclusion tournament in Ocean Springs sets an example for the rest of Mississippi. It has become the pilot program for the state, with such a young start in the games.
Special education teacher Colleen Barr helped organize the tournament.
"This is their day to shine and show everyone what they can bring," said Barr.
Students with special needs aren't the only ones benefiting from the experience.
"Our kids that are also without disabilities start to learn to be a part of them and much more accepting. So, a culture develops in the school district while we get to have fun," said Grant Dickinson, director of student services.
And, the fun wasn't just limited to the field. The parents were having a blast, as well. Annette Kortman's son, Joseph, ran the bases while she cheered him on from the sideline.
"Very proud of my son and he'll be talking about it all day," Kortman said.
It will likely be an experience that many of these students will remember for a long time. It was the second year for the Unified Kickball tournament. Students came from elementary schools in Saint Martin, Ocean Springs, and D'Iberville.