ASHLAND – Under a bright, sunny sky Friday afternoon in Ashland, more than 160 athletes from nine school districts helped to send a message.

Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver said that message was an important one too.

“When given the choice, we are going to choose to include,” he said.

Shriver and his wife, Linda Potter, were special guests for the Unified Track and Field Invite hosted by Ashland-Greenwood Public School.

Teams from both Waverly and Raymond Central competed in the afternoon that featured four field events and four events on the track. Events were 50 meter walk, 4x50 meter relay, 100 meter dash, 4x100 meter relay, shot put, discus (Frisbee), mini javelin and long jump.

During the opening ceremonies, Shriver told the supporters that were there to cheer on the athletes and the numerous volunteers that there are more than 5.6 Special Olympic Athletes in 172 countries.

“There is a big community,” he said.

Shriver said events like the one held in Ashland on Friday shows the world that everyone can and should be able to be included.

Shriver is the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who spent her life advocating for persons with intellectual disabilities and founded Special Olympics in 1968. Shriver followed in his mother’s footsteps and today he leads the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.

He also co-founded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a school reform organization in the field of social-emotional learning. He has produced four films and authored a New York Times Best Selling book.

Shriver asked those gathered Friday to repeat the “chose to include” pledge several times and thanked them for putting those words into action.

Shriver wasn’t the only one thanking the community however,

Jeff Raikes, an Ashland-Greenwood alum and co-founder of the Raikes Foundation, also came home for Friday’s activities.

His work with Microsoft Corporation and his philanthropic activities have taken him around the world and he now lives in Seattle, but he still called Ashland home and he applauded the unified athletes.

“This is still home to me and all of you represent the values I learned here,” he told the athletes during the opening ceremony.

During the track and field events, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse also stopped in for a visit. He too praised the athletes for thier determination.

“Thanks for the grit. Thanks for the character,” he said.

According to Special Olympics, about 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.

The Special Olympic athletes participated with a “unified” partner for the competition. Athletes ranged from sixth grade to age 21 and were from Ashland-Greenwood, Wahoo, Waverly, Raymond Central, Louisville, Milford, Conestoga, Malcolm and Nebraska City.

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