By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
For 132 Escambia County School System students, last Thursday, April 28, was more than just a fun day spent outside in the sunshine. For those students, last Thursday’s resurrection of Super Fun Day more than lived up to its name.
The students, many of them wheelchair-bound, gave it all they had as they ran races, threw balls, bounced on giant rubber balls, pushed wheelbarrows and more during the four-hour period of athletic competition, a type of event of which they are usually left out.
“These are kids who would not otherwise get to compete in athletic events,” said Suzanne Barnett, event organizer and Special Services Coordinator for the county school system. “They have no limitations; the boundaries are removed.”
All the youngsters — from grades K through 12 — enjoyed the competition, which was held for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic, but the prevailing factor was the fun. Some won medals for their athletic prowess; each won hugs, handshakes and congratulations whether they took home a medal or not.
The outdoors venue, Herbert Barnes Field at Escambia County High School, seemed to heighten enjoyment of the event Barnett said that was a return to the event’s older days.
“Actually, we used to always have it outside,” she said. “The first year here we had a storm and had to move it inside and realized we could do it inside (if needed).”
The stadium and its infield were crowded with the student-athletes and more than 200 teachers, chaperones, volunteers, school officials and family members who were on hand to feed encouragement to the special youngsters.
Escambia County public schools participated in Special Olympics from the county program’s origin in 1994. When Special Olympics made drastic changes to its procedures and protocols in 2000, a homegrown version was crafted.
“We started in 1994, I believe it was,” Barnett said. “Special Olympics changed their guidelines in 2000, and we decided not to follow Special Olympics guidelines, so we became Super Fun Day that year. We created our own event to fit the needs of Escambia County.”
Barnett and the small army of volunteers were joined by Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson and several of his deputies, who helped guide attendees and provide information.
“The school system partners with us, so we try to go to every event they want us,” the sheriff said. “They asked us to come, I thought it was a great idea, and I brought as many deputies as I could. It’s a great event, and I appreciate the job Mrs. Barnett has done with this program.”
Several of the county lawmen — including School Resource Officers Wallace Carter, William Mosley and Randall Gulley — became part of the entertainment as they joined Huxford Elementary School Principal Leah Fuqua and ECHS Principal Amy Cabaniss for an informal “dance-off” during a break in the action.
The students went wild each time principals from the 13 participating schools, including Fuqua, Cabaniss, Rachel Patterson Elementary’s Toya McMillian and Kike Pettaway, recently hired as ECHS’s principal, formed lines and danced to songs like “Cupid Shuffle.”
The students already had smiles on their faces from the reception they got as they unloaded from school buses and vans. An “honor line” of about 60 people formed a path from the buses to the field as the children, led by flag-bearer Bailey Stuckey, filed into the stadium.
Dancing turned into a big part of the event, as Russell Robinson, a local teacher also known as “DJ RR,” doubled as deejay. Friends danced with friends, including Racquel Knight of Atmore and Alaya Smith, and mothers danced with daughters, including Jennifer Moody and 10-year-old Alivia of Brewton.
Barnett pointed out that it “takes a village” to organize and put on such a quality event.
“I’ll tell you right off that this is not a one-person event,” she said. “The Office of Special Education staff worked hard to put everything together. We couldn’t have done it if not for my office staff, Katherine Salter and Alline Manuel.
“Really, it’s a family affair. My mother-in-law, (Beverly Barnett), Katherine’s daughter, Hannah, Janet Sharpe, Meagan Salter and Sydney Aaron (the county’s Distinguished Young Woman of 2022), all helped out. There are just too many people to mention.”
She thanked the host school and two distinct groups of volunteers for their part in making the event a success.
“We had 132 students, and they each had at least one adult with then, so we had a great team of volunteers here,” Barnett said. “I want to give a shout-out to ECHS for hosting this year’s event, and to the amazing volunteers from Alabama Power and the Coastal Alabama (Community College) nursing students.”
Barnett noted that the program is totally dependent on the goodwill of others and announced that its biggest fundraiser is on the horizon.
“We are totally funded by donations,” she said. “Our biggest fundraiser is our yard sale we have every year, and it was limited the last two years because of COVID. It’s huge, huge, this year. We already have a classroom full of donations.”
She said the yard sale would be held “in early June” at the vacant A.C. Moore Elementary School building. For more information, or to make a financial donation, contact Mrs. Barnett by phone at 251-296-0633 or by email at Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the local schools previously mentioned, Super Fun Day 2022 also included students from Flomaton Elementary, Flomaton High, Pollard-McCall, W.S. Neal Elementary, W.S. Neal Middle, W.S. Neal High, Brewton Elementary, Brewton Middle and T.R. Miller High.
The following student-athletes represented their Atmore-area schools:
Escambia County High
Presley Chapman, Heaven Dixon, Tyrell Dortch, Jaylin Phillips, Lindasha Williams
Escambia County Middle
Dalton Cisneros, Devon Clay, Sean Coleman, Jimmy Craft, Andrew Crenshaw,
Malakai Crenshaw, LaDerrick Curtis, Brysten Dixon, Alex Etheridge, Michael Gamble, Immogene Godwin, Lailah Gonzales, Zyquavious Goodley, Kamari’A Grace, Ty’Javion Hudson, Jeremiah Jemison, Isaiah Johnson, Kirsten McCracken,
Abreonna McMillan, Ashton Phillips, Destiny Riley, Zameriona Rivers, Aubryanna Underwood, Luna Valdez, Carrie Walker, TyJustice Wiggins,
Tykeria Wiggins, Noah Williams, Kayden Woods
Tennessee Boyington, Sophia Coon, Jaylen Countryman, Niko Godwin, Starsea Hadley, Landon Jones, Darlena (last name withheld), Levi Taylor
Wykerria Addison, Alayna Bell, Ella Blackmon, Elijah Brooks, Jason Calloway,
Kian Cisneros, Zoey Fleming, Ja’Nasia Fountain, Manny Herbin, Jayceon Lawrence, Jesus Montalvo, Kadrick Neal, Aiden Perez, Arden Raines, Noah Rice,
Khloe Richardson, Jamarious Simpson, Zy’Nyiah Walker, Kaleb Woods