Track and special athletes from across DeSoto County turned out to participate in the annual Special Olympics Mississippi Area 16 Track and Field Competition at DeSoto Central High School.
Under mild temperatures and blue skies, a total of 308 athletes took part and approximately 1,000 moms, dads and family members rooted them on from the sidelines.
Athletes from across the region competed in a variety of events, from running events, to softball and tennis throws.
All five mayors from DeSoto's major municipalities, which include Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson, Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer, Olive Branch Mayor Scott Phillips, Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite and Walls Mayor Patti Denison were on hand for the opening ceremonies.
Musselwhite delivered the challenge to the athletes.
"You need to know your parents are proud of you, your coaches, your teachers, your principals, and all of your cities — they are all here today," Musselwhite said. "They showed up because they realize how important it is. They are all proud of you."
Musselwhite, a star athlete during his high school days and a former professional baseball player for the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants farm teams, urged these "Special Olympians" to give their all.
"I want to challenge you today to leave it all out there on that field and give it all you've got," Musselwhite said. "Remember, it's not whether you win or lose. You leave your guts out there on the field or on that track. You suck it up, whether you are hurting or not," Musselwhite said in encouraging words spoken to athletes during the opening ceremonies.
Area 16 Special Olympic Events Director Bobby McRee said Special Olympics competition is just as hard fought as any other athletic competition.
"They've earned it," McRee said. "They need it. It's good for them and it's good for the community."
Dwayne Wims, Area 16 Special Olympics Director, said the excitement builds for the Special Olympic Track and Field competition just like any major Olympic competition.
"They're all worked up about it," Wims said. "They are excited about it. They've been talking about it for the last couple of weeks when they found out about it."
Karra Nowell is a BancorpSouth representative and special needs mom. BancorpSouth sponsored the event as it has done for the past several years.
"It's a fun event where they can enjoy the same events that their peers enjoy," Nowell said. "Sometimes, they don't get the opportunity to do that."
Nowell's son, Barrett Nowell, 19, graduated last year from DeSoto Central High School, but his mom Karra still comes out to lend her support to Special Olympics.
"He got to do all of the fun things that Special Olympic athletes get to do," Nowell said. "Some of the kids go through training so they can go on to compete nationally. It (Special Olympics) just gives them great life experiences."
Sports Editor Bob Bakken contributed to this story.