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Truly special Manatee athletes perform

MANATEE — Dozens of athletes took to the stage Saturday as Special Olympics Manatee County held its County Summer Games on Saturday at Bayshore High School.

There was a soccer team exhibition against a team from IMG Academies. There were tennis matches and tennis skills competitions. There was running, walking, a tennis ball throw and shot put. There was a cyclist, too, and even a bocce satellite event at Trailer Estates.

More importantly were the words of cheer and encouragement from friends and family.

“The best thing about Special Olympics is it doesn’t matter if it’s your athlete,” said Eileen Merchant, of Special Olympics Manatee, and mother of Kristy, 31, who competed in the 400- and 1,500-meter walk events. “Everybody cheers for everybody.”

All competitors are now eligible to compete in the Florida Area 9 Summer Games in Naples on March 27. The state games are at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports, May 14-16.

— Brent Conklin