No matter how the Carroll County Special Olympics Basketball Team performs Saturday at Virginia Tech, everybody in Carroll County was a winner on Friday.
In a ceremony that would have made the world’s grumpiest person smile, the Carroll County Special Olympics basketball team got a sendoff of champions at Carroll County High School. The team, which was scheduled to participate in the Virginia Tech Regional Special Olympics Basketball Tournament on Feb. 4 in Blacksburg, had the full attention of the high school and community Friday.
Before leaving for Virginia Tech, the team’s nine members from CCHS walked through a packed hallway of students clapping and cheering them on. Some of the students held signs, others yelled words of encouragement. Outside, almost the entire student body waited as the team loaded up into the van and got a police escort around the school, where they received another huge round of cheers from their fellow students.
Carroll County Resource Officers Kevin Kemp and Mike Combs escorted the van through town, where other well-wishers held banners on Main Street, and then on to Carroll County Middle School, where much of the student body gave the team a similar reaction they received at the high school. The van also took the team to the Carroll County Governmental Complex, where more fans cheered the team on. All in all, the ceremony made for a very happy team of Special Olympians.
“That got them all revved up and excited and let them know that they were really representing the school. It was just such an honor. A couple of classes at the high school made up those posters and they gave them to us to take to Virginia Tech,” said Vickey Ritchie, who coaches the team. “I was so happy with it because they didn’t have to do that for us. It really validates them as athletes. I was getting texts from students saying thanking you for letting us clap for them. Their heart was in the right place. And every single student in the hallway was clapping and that really makes you feel good.”
Although he didn’t take credit for it, Ritchie wants the public to know the sendoff was the idea of Carroll County High School Principal Chuck Thompson. Thompson has organized similar sendoffs for Carroll County athletic teams on the way to state tournaments. He said he felt it only appropriate that the county’s Special Olympians receive the same sort of recognition.
“These students are an important part of our school and they have enthusiasm for the school. In return, our students recognized that and it was very nice to see that our students appreciate other students regardless of ability or disability,” Thompson said. “We’ve done this for our athletic teams in the past and thought this was a good way to honor our students who are in the Special Olympics and heading off to Virginia Tech this weekend. We appreciated everybody coming out and showing the same sort of spirit they would anybody else. I thought it was a nice gesture on behalf of our school and students and I think our kids that are going to Special Olympics, I think you could see them smile a little bit bigger. To see everybody out there cheering them on, it was just a warm feeling.”
The nine Carroll County Special Olympians from Carroll County High School are Brett Petty, Chandler Cochran, Jamie Nunn, Kacie Branscome, Dylan Branscome, Jacob Reavis, Presley Talley and Sunshine Blankenship. During the sendoff, they were met at Carroll County Middle School by Principal Marc Quesenberry and a sidewalk full of more cheering students. Among those were five of the team’s unified members – Ethan Richardson, Alyssa Nunn, Emily Delp, Hannah Stoots and Carleigh Alley.
“Coming down the hallway helps get them ready for the crowd noise at Virginia Tech and they know it is good noise. You couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff,” Ritchie said. “The main thing is they get to have fun and they get to show their ability and not their disability, and they know they are loved in Carroll County.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN