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Smiling is more than just a game — Junior Auxiliary hosts Olympics for special needs students

The grownups’ grins stretched bigger than the competitors’ at the Smile Games Thursday, the Junior Auxiliary’s answer to the Olympics for special needs students in Lincoln County.

“The name is very appropriate,” said Katie Furr, a member of the JAs of Brookhaven.

“Every picture I’ve taken, the adults are smiling as much as the students,” added Mendez Vaughn, who is co-chairing the event with Whitney Holmes.

The JAs created the Smile Games three years ago. Its purpose is to provide a unique day geared toward children with special needs. Games and sports activities are adapted to fit their needs.

Holmes said the games serve those children often overlooked within this community.

JA volunteers met with special education directors from both school districts three years ago and it was decided the Smile Games would be held on a school day so that every child would have the necessary transportation to get them to the event.

Games were developed that would be appropriate for all children, including those with multiple physical disabilities.

About 80 students participated in the two sessions combined. The early morning session included kindergarten through sixth grade followed by lunch. In the afternoon, students from seventh grade to age 21 started with a pizza lunch followed by the games.

Both groups started the competition with opening ceremonies, entering the Lincoln Civic Center auditorium as their names were called. Each carried their own personal pretend torch, handmade by the JA volunteers.

Then it was on to their stations, where students rotated every 12 minutes. They played games like bean bag toss, football toss, tennis, balloon ping pong and tug-of-war.

“Everybody’s having fun and they’re all cheering each other on,” Holmes said.

The Smile Games is one of several projects funded by the JAs annual shrimp dinner.