SEBRING — Special STARS athletes strolled down the red carpet among “celebrities” Aug. 23 during their 10-year anniversary celebration at the Highlands Senior Center.
There were 200 athletes, families, volunteers and guests attending this formal affair honoring the athletes and their accomplishments. Athletes ranged from ages 6 to 79.
Special STARS (Sports Training And Recreational Services) started in Highlands County in 2004 with less than 100 participants in various sports. The program now offers 12 sports and eight recreational activities through the Special STARS Recreation Club for more than 400 children and adults with mental and physical disabilities in Highlands, Hardee and Okeechobee counties. The program, affiliated with Ridge Area Arc, is free to all athletes.
Cindy Marshall has served as the volunteer coordinator for Special STARS in all three counties since its inception.
Frannie Gillilan coordinates track and field events for school children.
During the celebration, dinner was served and catered by Dee’s Place in Sebring. Athlete Tim Brown led prayer before the meal after a moment of silence was given for the athletes who have passed away throughout the years.
The California Toe Jam Band provided music for dancing with a fantastic light show done by Bil Kovacs. Hardee County athlete Doug Nickels could not resist jumping on stage to sing with the band when they performed “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive.
“I love this band,” athlete Sharon Carpenter screamed as she hit the dance floor. “I can dance all night long to their music.”
Athletes were greeted and escorted to the red carpet area for the “paparazzi” to shoot their pictures with movie star cutouts of John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and the Rock. Angie Ruckman donated a video camera to record some of the evening for the athletes to enjoy. In addition to free pictures, California Toe Jam Band lead singer Harry Havery provided free CDs for the guests. They also received souvenir star martini glasses and torch lights.
The athletes’ pictures were placed on a gold star and displayed on the Wall of Fame at the event. They got to take their star home afterward.