OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee Special Stars had its second annual track and field day at the Okeechobee County softball fields on Oct. 11. The track and field day featured cycling events, tennis ball rolling and throwing and shot put.
Special Stars is a sports and recreational program for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Last year’s track and field day featured over 120 athletes and Okeechobee Special Stars director Bernard Marker says this year’s event drew similar numbers.
“We have about the same amount of athletes as last year,” said Marker. “It’s a good turnout, everybody is having fun. These guys like getting out and competing. All these people are here cheering them on. There really isn’t a lot for them to do here in town, so I’m glad people are stepping up and doing this for them.”
Mr. Marker drew praise for his work with both Special Stars and the Special Olympics from Cpl. Jack Nash of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
“Couldn’t be a better person,” Nash said of Marker. “Not only does he believe in it, he owns it. It’s something he holds dear, and he has for 20 years now. This event with these athletes is my single favorite event in the county. You get to see these athletes compete with each other and open up in ways they may not normally do. This is one time where they get to come out and we can all connect with them in a very, very positive way.”
The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office had volunteers out in force at the event, helping run the events and keeping records for the competitors.
Lunch for the athletes was once again graciously provided to participants free of charge by Jersey Mike’s with the support of Gilbert Ford. Jersey Mike’s owner, Krissy Culbreth, had previously worked with Special STARS through her Jersey Mike’s location in Sebring.
“The community has been a lot of help,” said Marker of the support the athletes have received from Okeechobee. “There’s so many volunteers I couldn’t even name them all.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Marker was named Special Olympics director for Okeechobee County. He says he would like to continue serving in both Special Stars and Special Olympics, but may have to make a decision later on down the line.
“We’re still working on that,” explained Marker. “If I can do both without a conflict of interest, I’d like to do both. When that day comes, I’ll worry about it at that time. Right now it’s just more opportunity for those in need in Okeechobee.”