Marietta Special Olympics team competes with new coach

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

The Special Olympics in Marietta this year marked a few major milestones, most notably with a new head coach. As Maverick McClendon settles into his new role as a special education teacher at Marietta High School, one of the first Special Olympics teammates in Marietta has been getting ready to graduate. 

Even though the event was scaled back because of soggy weather, raucous cheers and applause in the elementary school gym on Tuesday suggested students were still having fun supporting their schoolmates. Handmade signs dotted the walls and students waved support for specific competitors even as storms loomed outside. 

Memphis Matthews gets cheers during the 100-meter run Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

“It’s a huge event today,” said assistant coach Hope Willis. “Our kids have been making posters for days."

A team of 14 students — from fourth grades students up to seniors — competed in seven events this year with track and field events held on Tuesday. While the team will lose four seniors this year, five new students are expected to join the team as third grade students next year. 

Among the seniors graduating is Jacob Haynes. He and two other classmates made up the first Marietta team when he was only in second grade. Since their graduation last year, Haynes is the final member of that inaugural team to graduate. 

“I didn’t know this but apparently I was first and all my friends followed and then eventually we got a big team,” Haynes said.  

Stetson Willis races to complete the 100-meter run Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

Willis said she formed the team 11 years ago when she was a paraprofessional for the school. Now a special education teacher for Marietta, she has passed the team on to McClendon, who is also her son. 

“I started with three of them. I gained two more and had five for years and now, in just the last few years, it’s gotten huge,” Willis said. 

The event has grown to be quite popular across the district, according to McClendon. Events were scheduled to be outside but were forced indoors with a smaller crowd due to weather.  

Aaron Austin watches his boccie ball as Kyle Austin watches in anticipation Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

“If it wasn’t for the Oklahoma weather, we would have been outside doing a big event and everybody would have been over at the field watching us. The whole district was planning on coming out and seeing us,” McClendon said.  

A parade is still expected to be held on campus on Thursday at 8:15 a.m. 

When asked if he was sad about competing in his final Special Olympics, Haynes said yes and no. He’s also unsure if he will volunteer at future Special Olympics since the senior said he has been accepted to the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology. 

If all goes to plan, he will be busy designing soundtracks for movies and games. His favorite events have been long jump and turbo javelin but said he has improved his abilities in other events over the years. 

Trinity Mantzke runs the final lap of her 100-meter run Tuesday, May 11, 2021

“Those were my favorites because I tended not to be able to finish the running races when I was younger. Now I can actually finish them, at least,” he said.