published Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Special Olympics meet inspirational as always

Almost every day of almost every week, Chad Brandon serves milk, cereal and ice cream in the McCallie School cafeteria.

"And if Chad doesn't do his job, we all suffer," McCallie headmaster Kirk Walker said with a quick smile Saturday morning.

But once every spring -- for eight straight years now -- the 37-year-old Brandon turns in his work clothes for athletic gear, then heads to the school's Spears Stadium for the annual Area 4 Special Olympics track and field competition.

"Chad knows more about sports than the rest of our family combined," said his younger brother John, a 2004 McCallie grad who makes his living as a professional opera singer.

"He's always keeping us up to date on the latest ball scores, whether it's the [Atlanta] Braves or UTC."

According to Area 4 director Judy Rogers, 272 athletes entered Spears Stadium for the 44th Area 4 competition.

"What a great day," she said, pointing at a clear blue sky that had been forecast to be filled with rain earlier in the week. "I just kept saying little prayers [for good weather], and I guess the good Lord heard me."

What those 272 athletes all heard were loud cheers from UTC football players and East Hamilton High School baseball players, both programs coming out in force to support the event.

"It probably means more to us than it does [the athletes]," said East Hamilton coach Steve Garland. "We're thrilled to be here."

Ginger Guilbert has been thrilled to be a part of the Area 4 Games for at least 20 years. Now 43, she competed in both the softball throw and 50-meter dash, winning ribbons in both events.

"She loves to compete," said her mother, Marcia. "She played Dream League baseball last summer."

Said the popular Ginger as she autographed a competitor's T-shirt: "I can't help it. I'm just a chatterbox."

Few loved competing Saturday more than 12-year-old Anne Elise White of Signal Mountain Middle.

"She reminds us all the time it's coming up," said her mother, Melissa. "She even hugs her friends before the race. This is always a big day for her."

Anne Elise began her big day by eating "chocolate chip pancakes and a strawberry smoothie" with Melissa and her father Troy. Then came the trip to McCallie, the opening parade and the first of her three events.

Asked her favorite, she exclaimed, "Softball! But I run, too. I'm going to get three ribbons."

As she claimed the second of those ribbons for her softball throw, younger brothers Anderson (10) and Coleman (7) joined in the joy.

Said Melissa White: "This is just a really neat day. The boys are both into sports, and to get out and celebrate her accomplishments is a great thing."

Here's how great life can be for these special athletes when given a chance:

"I was a student at McCallie for six years," John Brandon said. "And whenever I come back, they never call me John. They always call me Chad's brother."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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