(WDEF) Students from City Park and Valley Point schools extended their hands and cheered loudly for the 18 runners from the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Department, Dalton Police Department, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as they participated May 15 in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Georgia Special Olympics.
“This is the 27th year that deputies from the Sheriff’s Office have participated in this annual fund-raiser to support children from around the state with special needs, and the police department has been running with us for the past three years,” Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said while watching the runners stretch and chat with one another before beginning on their journey.
Participants gathered at the old county jail, ran past hundreds of City Park Elementary School students, then headed down Thornton Avenue to Bryman South, where they climbed onto a county bus to head to the South Bypass. There they unloaded and began running south to U.S. 41.
As usual, officers took a water/bathroom break at Valley Point Elementary School as hundreds of students lined up on both sides of the driveway to greet them with high-fives and hand-slaps as they ran through.
After a 15-minute break, they headed south again to hand off the torch to more lawmen waiting at the Gordon County line.
Law enforcement officers from around the state joined together to carry the torch to Atlanta and on to Emory University for the May 18 kickoff for the Georgia Special Olympics.
The total route for the local officers was nine miles, starting in the parking lot of the “old jail” and running to the Gordon County line. This year, the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office has already raised about $500 for Special Olympics and continues to offer T-shirts and caps for sale and accept donations. If you’d like to make a contribution or a purchase, contact Sgt. Tammy Silvers at the Sheriff’s Office.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest annual fund-raising event benefiting Special Olympics Georgia. This signature event plays a significant role in Special Olympics Georgia’s annual budget. The Torch Run has continued to reach new records in fund-raising efforts each year.
More than 1,000 Georgia law enforcement officers from more than 100 agencies take part in the 1,000-mile, two-week torch relay. A torch, the "Flame of Hope," is carried.
The relay began May 6 in Augusta and ended on May 17 when a torch was run from the Georgia Capitol to Emory University in Atlanta, the site of this year's Summer Olympics.
Officers entered during the opening ceremony and handed the torch to a Special Olympics athlete, who lit the Olympic cauldron to "Let the Games Begin."
More than 1,700 athletes, 600 coaches and 1,800 volunteers participated in the games, which includes events such as soccer, volleyball, tennis and swimming.
The first Law Enforcement Torch Run was held in Kansas in 1981 and has grown extensively worldwide with more than 142,000 volunteers in 48 countries and raising $414 million for the Special Olympics movement since organizing. Georgia held its first Torch Run in 1986. Some form of it is now in all 50 states.
The mission of Special Olympics Georgia is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.