Harrison County

Airmen and athletes bond at Keesler Special Olympics

BILOXI -- Airman Bethany Novak-Tveten said she had never been a Special Olympics sponsor before.

Her sponsor duties included hosting a special Olympian for a couple of nights at Keesler Air Force Base and providing moral support.

She was one of several members of the 81st Training Wing who helped about 900 athletes from across Mississippi go for the gold at the 2016 Special Olympics.

This was the 30th year Keesler has hosted the Olympics.

Novak-Tveten's sponsored athlete, Seniyah Jones, was a gold medalist Saturday.

Jones' mother, Kytina Shropshire, said they have been to the Coast several times before.

Fun for all

"We love coming down here -- it's a great event," she said.

After Jones accepted her gold medal for the 100-meter walk, Novak-Tveten said she was proud of her.

"She's doing a great job," she said. "Oh my God, I love Seniyah -- she's so cute and she's so funny and she wanted to win today and she did an awesome job."

Senior Airman Holly Mansfield said each athlete has a male and female sponsor. The sponsors spend Friday and Saturday nights with the sponsor matching their gender in the dorms on base.

Although Friday night could have been an opportunity to pull an "all-nighter" with her new friend, Novak-Tveten said they decided to take it easy.

"We did some coloring and then we called it an early night," she said.

Return visitors

Blues Springs, a community in North Mississippi near Tupelo, was well-represented at Saturday's games.

Susan Gillespie, a teacher at South Pontotoc High School, said she has been bringing athletes to the games at Keesler for about 20 years.

"We love it -- it is so wonderful for our kids," she said. "I like everything about coming down here, but the main thing is that our students are not recognized for a lot, so this is one weekend that they look forward to their whole year."

One of the students in Gillespie's group was Jennifer Manning, who also won a gold medal. She was accompanied by her sister Sarah Manning.

It is the most amazing thing I have ever seen," Sarah Manning said. "These athletes go through so much and for many, this is the only weekend where it is all about them -- I've been here before as a coach and I want to start working with people with disabilities."