CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — More than 300 Special Olympic athletes spent part of their Friday at Carl Junction High School. All there for this year’s Southwest Missouri Regional Special Olympics Track and Field Day.

“I think that we actually should be encouraging other schools that don’t have these programs to have them. Because I think it’s a really good way to help prevent bullying in general ’cause it helps people understand that even though someone might act different, it doesn’t mean they should be bullied,” said Brook Hale, Carthage Special Olympian Athlete High School Junior.

Brook Hale, a junior at Carthage High School, won a gold medal in the 4×1 relay today. This year marks her fourth year as Special Olympian. She has a love for competition and having a good time, something that makes all the athletes feel like family.

“I know personally with my Unified Buddy she absolutely loves it. They love being out here. Any of the students love being out here because we all just feel like a big old family having fun cheering them on and just having a good time,” said Hailey Bryant, Senior Carthage High School, Brook Hale Unified Buddy.

Students in the Launch Club at Carl Junction held a dodgeball tournament and were able to raise $15,000 to benefit the Special Olympic athletes in the Southwest region.

“Just knowing that I won’t be here next year but we’ll still be able to do amazing work helping the community and giving back. Knowing that we started this year and be here for years to come, that’s amazing. And I’m so excited this is something that will be a legacy here at CJ,” said Maggie Brown, Carl Junction Senior CJHS Launch.

“When our athletes win a medal after they compete they are so excited it just really means the world to them to have their time in the spotlight and to compete and be an athlete like everyone else,” said Jana Fornelli, Program Director Special Olympics Missouri Southwest Area.

350 athletes competed today and represented 17 teams from across the Southwest Missouri region. For many, the season isn’t over just yet.

“And those that do go on to State it’s a big honor for them and we look forward to wishing them the best of luck to go to State,” said Fornelli.