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Pool party spreads smiles
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Elizabeth Sutton, 6, dances through the water while playing with friends. - photo by Atlanta Northcutt

A special day for a special pool party sponsored by the McMinnville Special Games took place at Gilley Pool on Friday to celebrate the end of summer. 

The Special Pool Party is on its seventh year and brought smiles, laughs and fun times in the sun and water for members of the special needs community from ages 4-92. 

Each person could bring up to three guests to swim, eat and enjoy Gilley Pool free of charge. 

Pizza, hot dogs, chips, desserts and beverages were free to all who came.

The pool party has grown from 40 special swimmers during the first year to over 200 in 2019. McMinnville Special Games rented out Gilley Pool to allow and provide a day to focus on those within the community, allowing attendees to be themselves without judgment in a more calm and supervised environment.

“The best thing I’ve heard from most parents is that their kids can be themselves and not worry about being judged or having other kids ask questions,” said McMinnville Special Games president Holly McBride. “The special needs community is just that: a community. This is a chance for them to be themselves.”

Although the event is sponsored by McMinnville Special Games, families from surrounding counties such as Coffee, DeKalb, Putnam and more came to join the fun.

“We get people from surrounding counties,” says McBride. “Even though it’s called the McMinnville Special Games, if they are willing to drive to us, who are we to turn them away?”

The event is not just for the special needs community, but it allows family members and guardians of that community to spend time with one another, relax and enjoy a fun time without as many worries as the average day.

“This is a time for parents to have fellowship and talk with others who understand their feelings,” said McBride.

Donna Wanamaker is a longtime volunteer and mother of a special swimmer herself, Jacob Wanamaker. Donna says her favorite part of the event is seeing all of the smiles and hugs and witnessing the confidence gained by the special swimmers, as well as their parents.

“This gives the parents a chance to sit back and see their children do something a typical child can do which gives them a sense of accomplishment,” said Donna.

The 2019 Special Pool Party was a day full of happiness, community, laughter and excitement. The fun in the sun was therapy for both the swimmers and their parents and loved ones.

“The kids love the freedom the most and not having to worry about being different,” said McBride. “We’re all a little bit different in our own ways.”