MODESTO — At a sports competition like no other, volunteers cheered, teared and hugged athletes of all ages.
A loving community of families and helpers wrapped arms around Special Olympians on Saturday in Modesto at the John F. Kennedy School track during the Special Olympics Stanislaus County 40th annual Track and Field Area Games.
"Oh my God! Daddy, can you believe it?" shouted Traci Canterbury from the winners stand as she received three medals for long jump and track events. Canterbury kept shouting, tears brimming, as father Chuck Canterbury took her picture.
She does this every year, has since she was a kid, her dad said with a smile. Traci Canterbury always wins. At this sports competition, everyone is a winner.
"It's about having a great time," said Rick Eger of Modesto, watching the events with his wife and daughter. "We're always so hung up on winners. Number One is it," he said, adding he enjoyed seeing racers high-five and cheer each other.
Mike Gamboa of Salida, in the stands watching his niece, applauded the helpers.
"People are so kind here. My heart goes out to all the volunteers here," he said. "They make everyone feel so welcome."
Standing at the edge of the Kennedy School track, Stanislaus County Office of Education administrator Tami Cervantes called out events, announced lunch and kept the day moving. Kennedy teacher Margie Miller pitched in as well.
From neighboring Howard Training Center, Melissa Burgess rooted for familiar faces.
"Quite a few of our clients are out here. I try to come every year to support our athletes, show them we're so proud of them," she said.
Burgess brought some family along to cheer, too. Her mom, Christine Burgess, said it was her first Special Olympics, but won't be her last.
"I think it's really great. They're so proud of themselves. It's like there's nothing they can't do," she said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.