Special STARS hosts track and field day in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — Special STARS, a sports and recreational program for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities, hosted a track and field day at the Okeechobee County softball fields on Oct. 5. The track and field day featured cycling events, tennis ball rolling and throwing and shot put. Initially, organizers estimated around 30 participants would sign up for the competition in Okeechobee, but as Oct. 5 approached that number grew to over 120.

(A video of the event can be found at the end of this article.)

The cycling events at the Special STARS track and field day featured 3-wheel cycles and 2-wheel cycles. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

The event was spearheaded by Bernard Marker, who had been attempting to set up a recreational field day for athletes with disabilities for the past few years.

“We were trying to get in contact with the Special Olympics, but they never contacted us back,” explained Mr. Marker of his initial attempts to host an event in Okeechobee. “I tried three or four different times, and they just never called back. We haven’t had anything like it here in years. I have a daughter in ESE in ninth grade, and I wanted her to be able to be involved in something. So I got in touch with Special STARS, and they were willing to give us a try and expand into our county.”

Field events at the Special STARS track and field day saw athletes compete in a tennis ball roll, tennis ball throw, softball throw and shot put. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

The group is based in Avon Park, where they regularly host athletic competitions and recreational events for both children and adults with disabilities.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen was asked by his friend Mr. Marker to help with the event. The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) performed the presentation of colors ceremony to open the event, and OCSO community relations deputy Jack Nash and OCSO training and public relations supervisor Sgt. Michael Hazellief were on hand to cheer on the athletes.

“I think this is absolutely awesome,” said Sheriff Stephen. “To give these folks a chance to participate and feel like they’re a part of something is just great. It’s a good community thing, so we’re here for whatever we can do to support it.”

Lunch was provided to participants free of charge by Jersey Mike’s with the support of Gilbert Ford. Jersey Mike’s owner, Krissy Culbreth, had previously worked with Special STARS through her Jersey Mike’s location in Sebring.

“They approached us about helping with the lunches and asked what we could do,” said Mrs. Culbreth. “They were on a minimal budget and they explained how the event grew from around 35 kids to over 100 people. So I said absolutely and made a couple calls to see if we could raise some money to help get this done. Gilbert Ford volunteered to take care of everything today. I think it’s a great program. It’s great that they came down here to host this in our little town. I think people are loving it.”

Video:

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