The Melissa fire and police departments were there, the city’s mayor was there, the school district superintendent was on the mic and there were scores of volunteers on hand. What was the big deal? The 6th Annual Special Olympics Track Meet took over Melissa ISD’s Cardinals Stadium on April 12 and, true to its history, was a well-attended, well-run day of fun for hundreds of area special-needs children.

The Melissa event is one of the bigger local meets in the area. Amy Burchett, Meet Coordinator and one of the driving forces behind the event, said this year’s event for Area 10 Special Olympics athetes drew 13 schools and approximately 330 Special Olympics athletes to the event. That’s not counting coaches, parents, support staff, volunteers and fans who made their way through the stadium gates. Burchett said the event, which has grown from nine teams and 200 athletes six years ago, is currently as big an event as they want to ever host.

Participants from the 13 schools — Melissa, Anna, Bells, Bonham, Celina, Community, Denison, Gunter, Plano East Senior High, Princeton, Prosper, Sherman, Whitesboro — compete in 13 track events and seven field events. Within each event are different heats, which means that there were actually 94 track events and 91 field events, so you can see the size and scope of the event are bigger than would first appear.

The day is a special one for the participants, and organizers do their best to make sure it’s just that way. Special Olympics athletes make their way into the stadium by going through a cheer line complete with clapping and high fives. The ceremonies open with the Parade of Athletes in which Melissa host students escort each team down the front section of the track in front of the stands holding a sign identifying each school to the raucous cheering of the crowd.

"We make it a big party," said Burchett. "We [do] the cheer line as the kids walk in, that’s always a lot of fun and kind of of starts the morning off [right.] The main thing we try to do is make it a great day for the athletes so that they feel really special.

"This is our sixth year, and we like it to be a big event for them so they feel special when they come."

Melissa ISD Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith welcomed this year’s participants, spectators and volunteers and introduced Melissa Mayor Reed Greer, who praised the hard work of all involved. Smith and the school district have thrown their full support behind the event, and it showed on this sunny Friday.

"Melissa ISD is blessed to have the opportunity to host our 6th Annual Special Olympics Invitational Track Meet this year," said MISD Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith. "It is a time we serve our special athletes to change attitudes about people with special needs and change the lives of all who are involved. It was great to have so many MISD students, coaches, teachers, principals, parents, police offices, firemen, city officials and businesses support this event.

"Melissa ISD parent Amy Burchett organizes the event each year," added Smith, "and each year our event has more participants and volunteers. Mrs. Burchett does a wonderful job of making this a community experience and not just a Melissa ISD event."

Following opening ceremonies, the mascots took to the track. The annual Mascot Race is hugely popular with all those involved and is especially embraced by the Special Olympics athletes themselves.

Track events are on tap in the morning, and field events dominate the afternoon. Through it all, a host of volunteers, including National Junior Honor Society students from Melissa Middle School and National Honor Society students from Melissa High School, keep the show running. Food is constantly on the grill, waters are passed out and the medal podium is always a busy place with officers from Melissa Police Department personally draping hardware around the Special Olympics athletes’ necks.

Event sponsors included Mud Pies and Lullabies, B Hip Global and The LaCore Family, Ian Chapa, McKinney Sports Connection, Chucks Wagon BBQ, White Family Chiropractic, Sonic, Nestle Waters-North America and Frito Lay.

Volunteers are the engine that powers this event, and some of those who helped fuel the day were Christy Alexander, Corinne Beasley, Connie Clemans, Trina Fender, Bobbye Fisher, Kerry Greer and Reed Greer, Kim Hadfield Don and Sue Hixon, Betty Nolte and Joe Wood. Remember the aforementioned food on the grill? Charles Schandelmeier organized the cooking of 800 hot dogs and 800 hamburgers with assistance from the volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Becki Johson and Megan Garner coordinated the lunch volunteers, serving 700 meals to all those involved in the track meet.

At the end of the day, there were hundreds of happy young athletes driving away from Cardinal s Stadium and scores of volunteers who did a great thing on this given day.