By Leslie M. Hernandez
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The crack of the starter's pistol had barely faded Friday when wild cheers erupted for the athletes making their way down the track toward the finish line.
It was just what Judy Kilpatrick had hoped for, spectators to cheer on the participants of the Special Olypmics being held this weekend at Hood Stadium on Fort Hood.
Kilpatrick, Area 12 director for Special Olympics, said this year's games marked the 19th year they have been held on Fort Hood.
"It's a win win for everyone," Kilpatrick said. "The kids like to come here and interact with the soldiers and the soldiers have always been big on helping out."
Capt. Jermaine Granger, the events project officer, said Special Olympics is the first big project he has handled in a few years.
"I was excited when I was given this assignment," Granger said. "This is a good experience. It's important for Hood to get involved with the community."
Kilpatrick said 347 special athletes have signed up to participate in the games, which continue today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The athletes come from a 12-county area," Kilpatrick said. "Some are from group homes or residential nursing homes."
The athletes' ages range from 8 years old to the late 60s, Kilpatrick added.
Kevin Stephens, 33, of Corsicana, comes to the games for two reasons: to participate in the golfing and bowling events and to coach track and field and basketball.
"It's a lot of fun," Stephens said. "I like working with the kids and watching them run and play."
Stephen's mother, Jodie Stephens, said she and Kevin have been coming to the Special Olympics since 1999.
"We come back every year because of the friendships we have made here," Jodie said.
Though the stands weren't full Friday evening, the caregivers, coaches and more than 400 soldiers made as much noise for the athletes as they could.
Spc. Crystal Andrade, with the 13th Sustainment Command, stood at the finish line of the walking and running events as a "picker."
"We stand at the finish and pick them out as they cross the line and hug them and tell them what a good job they did," Andrade said. "It's such fun. It's important because the athletes want to have fun just like we do."
There is no cost to attend the games. Those without regular access to Fort Hood may obtain a visitor's pass from the Marvin Leath Visitors Center south of the post's Main Gate.
Contact Leslie M. Hernandez at email@example.com