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Special Olympics Winter Games, where everyone is accepted
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Entering the doors of the Yonah Bowl and Skate in Cleveland last Thursday, the sounds of bowling balls speeding down the lanes and striking pins were overpowered by laughter, cheering and chants of, You can do it!

It was the opening ceremonies of the Area 2 Special Olympics Winter Games, where Olympians from all over north Georgia come together to celebrate the movement of creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability.

A movement Dr. Susan Rutherford, director of special education of Dawson County, embraces.

There are so many things these events help the kids with, explained Rutherford. It teaches them how to be on a team, how to socially behave in other settings, and how to interact with other kids and adults. Its a good collaborative activity that involves the kids, parents and the support staff.

Rutherford said she believes the games are not only good for children who participate, but also for their parents.

To see all of the other children is a reminder that they are not alone. Its hard to imagine what the parents encounter because it is hard enough to raise a typical kid. When you stop and think about it, they can really go through some trials and tribulations, and this is a good stress reliever, she said.

Misty Caldwell is the mother of 12-year-old, Riverview Middle School student, Tyler Caldwell. Tyler was diagnosed with a rare chromosome deletion called Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome at birth. Misty said the Special Olympics is an event she and her son are proud to be involved with, and she is grateful of the schools participation.

He has a blast, said Caldwell. And I am sure he enjoys showing out, too. It is touching and one of those moments that make you want to cry. Just to see the kids getting out there and having as much fun as they do is awesome. Some of them are insecure and things bother them, but they get out there and they just dont care.

Yonah Bowl and Skate has donated the use of their facilities for Special Olympics for over eight years. For Rae Turner, representative of the family-owned business, it is the highlight of the year.

We are so proud to do this, said Turner. We built this center for the entire community and to see the kids using it like this is awesome.

Rutherford said the event is a reality check for everyone involved.

It brings you back to whats really important, she said. We tend to forget sometimes why we are in this business because all of the rules and procedures we must follow. This is a reminder of why we do what we do.

Rutherford added that even though the Special Olympics is an off-campus event, it reinforces what students are taught in the classroom.

The reality of it is one day these kids are going to be walking out of the high school doors, and they have to know how to interact with others. I think people sometimes forget about all of the things we do in school. We dont just do academics. We teach kids how to behave and interact with each others, and take care of themselves so when they are out on their own, they can look more typical and function normally.

The special education staff of Dawson County is sometimes accused of loving too much, according to Rutherford.

We have such a good special education staff, and there is no description for what they do. They just love the kids. And sometimes, they might be accused of loving them a little too much, she said while smiling.

Dawson County will host the Area 2 Special Olympic Spring Games in April 2013. The games will include track and field activities and Young Athletes, ages 2-7, will be added to the roster of Olympians. Jacqueline Daniel is the President of ConnectAbility, a non-profit agency committed to children and adults with disabilities, and a Special Olympics partner.

This will be a great opportunity to get involved with Special Olympics, said Daniel. Its not so much about coming out to work, we need people to come out and cheer and support the kids. That is really what it is all about.

For more information about Special Olympics and how you can get involved, contact Tricia Owenby, communications paraprofessional, or Jacqueline Daniel of ConnectAbility, Inc., 770-616-4599.