KATHLEEN -- The seats in the gymnasium at Veterans High School were nearly full Friday as students from Houston County competed in the Special Olympics Winter Games.
More than 150 middle and high school special education athletes participated in a variety of basketball-related skills.
Jamie King, a senior at Perry High School who competed in the three-on-three basketball game, qualified to attend the State Winter Games in Atlanta this weekend.
Im pretty excited about it, he said.
A fan of basketball since he was little, Kings favorite team is the Atlanta Hawks. He said just getting the chance to play was rewarding.
Its getting a chance to play with your friends and to enjoy it, he said.
Houston Countys local coordinator Rebecca Banks, a special education teacher at Bonaire Middle School, said they wanted to resume the winter sport to give the students another opportunity.
They get very excited to win medals and to compete with their peers, she said.
To put on the event, Banks estimated she had more than 100 volunteers.
Among those helping out were 12 members of the local management team for Houston County. They had the motto of the Special Olympics screen-printed on the back of their turquoise shirts: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the effort.
If they werent competing, students were treated to clowns, face painting and games.
Student helpers from the respective schools were there to help out, whether it was to keep score or encourage an athlete.
From the cheering section for some of the high schools three-on-three games, the rivalry was heated but in good fun.
Its great that their peers come and cheer them on, Banks said.
Joan Brown, a Kathleen resident and grandparent to athlete Cayla Campbell, thought the community needed more things like the games in which the students could participate.
I think it is wonderful for their self-esteem, Brown said.
Cayla competes in the Summer Games as well, which are typically held in May.
She absolutely loves it, her grandmother said, adding that her granddaughter wasnt much of a talker but smiled a lot.
They are having a ball, and you can tell.