HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hub City Special Olympics return to Hattiesburg Saturday for the first time in a decade.
"For the city, it's going to be huge because we have an opportunity to bring back something that's been lost for a long time," said Katie Weeks, regional director of Hub City Special Olympics. "We have a large special needs community in Hattiesburg, and so many people are excited about bringing this back. Our athletes are ready to get out there and have a good time. For me personally, it's very touching. It's very heart warming to see these guys who haven't gotten to do this in so long are getting to be out there and have a good time."
Lori Potter, regional director for Hub City Special Olympics, said, "For the athletes, they are full of gratitude. They've been having to travel, you know, hundreds of miles to participate because it wasn't local, and for us to be here for them means everything to them."
Both said they have had an outpouring of support from the community.
Weeks said one of the most meaningful aspects of the planing has been meeting local athletes, like Craig Foshee.
"He has over 200 medals combined and is just one of the most amazing people I've ever met," Weeks said. "And to see how important this is to him, and how it's just made his life light up for us to be back is worth every single minute."
Potter said, "It is one of these organizations where you can't help but smile. You want to give. You want to be a part of it. you want to be around it. What you get from giving in return there's no words to describe the feeling."
No one understands that better than Nick Crutcher, who has been involved with Mississippi Special Olympics since 1976.
"I was lucky enough to be the state director in 1976 until 1986," Crutcher said. "So we build the program up, and it was pretty phenomenal. i mean, it's probably the greatest sports program in the state of Mississippi. It's a program that recognizes special athletes and shows them that they can participate not just in sports, but in society."
Always having a heart for children with special needs, he was well prepared when his granddaughter was born with Down syndrome.
Marley passed away in March, and this year's inaugural games are being held in her honor.
"Marley was a pretty special young lady," Crutcher said. "It's really, really an honor for our family for them to honor Marley. Even though she's not here, she'll be a part here today and at these games.If she was here, she would have been an athlete too, no question. Her personality and her ability would have been just as inspired."
Crutcher said he feels their story comes full circle with Marley being honored at the games. He said Marley had certain phrases she was known for, one of which was saying "Be Brave" as she patted you on the shoulder.
Crutcher said her phrase is incredible close to the special Olympics athlete oath, "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Spectators are asked to wear Marley's favorite accessory to Saturday's games.
"From the time she had hair, Marley had a bow," Crutcher said.
Even with the special focus on Marley, he said the games are really about the athletes and volunteers.
"They're honoring Marley, but you really have to honor the athletes and the volunteers this year," Crutcher said. "You know, special Olympics is nothing without volunteers.The greatest asset anybody can give in their life is their time. Honoring Marley is just the icing on the cake."