HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Porter Stadium at Hannibal High School was filled with hundreds of athletes and volunteers Tuesday as the Hannibal School District hosted Special Olympics of Missouri track and field competitions.
It's the second year the district has provided a venue for Northeast Missouri Special Olympic athletes. Schools represented for the competitions were Hannibal, Palmyra High School, the Adair County R-II School District and Westran School District in Randolph County. Also present were the Hannibal Hawks, a Special Olympics group for adults.
Diane Brimer, Central Area program director for Special Olympics of Missouri, said it was Hannibal Schools Superintendent Susan Johnson who first approached her a couple of years ago about hosting such an event.
"We met and talked about it, and I'm so thrilled we could make it all work," Brimer said. "Last year, we held this on a weekend. But by holding this year's competitions on a school day, it allows schools and students to share in the experience."
Mike Vaia, Hannibal School District special services director, said the number of participants Tuesday -- about 100 -- was nearly triple the number who participated in 2017. So was the number of Hannibal Middle and High School students and others who volunteered.
"The thing I see the most today is enthusiasm. I've never seen a group of more enthusiastic athletes in my life," Vaia said. "In a normal athletic event, you don't see a kid get last place and then go up and congratulate the first-place winner like they both just won gold medals.
"As much as the athletes get out of this event, the volunteers get as much or more out of it. Today is a super-fun, super-positive event to be part of, and we've had great community involvement and support in holding this event."
Events that athletes could compete in included walking, running, long jump, softball throw, various competitions for athletes in wheelchairs, and a youth station where children ages 3 to 7 could work on athletic skills such as balancing.
Becca Murphy, a special education teacher at Palmyra High School, said the 10 Palmyra students competing Tuesday had been practicing and talking about the competitions for weeks.
Palmyra sophomore Tony Freeman was signed up to do the 25-, 50- and 100-meter dash, and he was excited to run in them because it was his first time competing in the Special Olympics.
"Special Olympics is a way to let people know it doesn't matter if you have a disability. You can do this," Freeman said.
Chloe Harold, a third-grader at Veterans Elementary School in Hannibal, won gold in a short run event. Like Freeman, it was her first Special Olympics athletic competition, too.
"Today is a lot of fun," Harold said, "and it's exciting."
Hannibal Public Schools had 66 athletes competing Tuesday.
"This event is great because it gets our school involved in activities our students normally wouldn't be able to do," said Lisa Hull, a para-professional teacher at Veterans Elementary.