The Special Olympics of Missouri (SOMO) will stage a local track and field meet on Saturday, May 6, at Porter Stadium. An opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. with events lasting until 2 p.m.

For the first time, the Hannibal Public School District will host a unique athletic event for the area — one in which the fastest times, farthest throws and longest jumps don't necessarily matter.

The Special Olympics of Missouri (SOMO) will stage a local track and field meet on Saturday, May 6, at Porter Stadium. An opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. with events lasting until 2 p.m.

The public is invited to attend to encourage the participants in a variety of events.

SOMO encourages the inclusion of athletes with intellectual disabilities through year-round sporting events, ranging from track and field to swimming, bocce ball to floor hockey.

The athletes involved come from a variety of backgrounds and ability levels. Some have physical limitations.

SOMO, however, makes sure every athlete feels strong and fast, encouraging them to participate as they're able.

Saturday's event is a local meet, in which participants come from the Hannibal School District and other surrounding entities, specifically Marion County Services for the Developmentally Disabled.

SOMO events culminate each year with a state competition, held in June.

“We're kind of curious to see what the turn out is like,” Mike Vaia, Hannibal Schools Director of Special Services, said.

Vaia said Hannibal became involved when Superintendent Susan Johnson contacted the SOMO Central District about how to become involved.

Over the course of a year, the school district worked with SOMO to put together Saturday's event.

Previously, if an athlete wanted to participate in a local track meet, he/she would have had to travel to Kirksville, according to Diane Brimer, Regional Director for the SOMO Central District.

With a local event, athletes — who range in age from 8 to adults — can feel included in sporting events without having to travel far from home.

Brimer said Saturday's meet will be the first sporting event in which many of the athletes will participate.

“It's hard for me to describe just what we know that these individuals get out of a day like this,” Brimer said. “Besides the excitement of it, there's a lot that goes even farther that.”

She said one of the greatest rewards is seeing the smiles of athletes who always wanted to participate in athletics, but couldn't do so in traditional settings.

“It's their time to be able to show what they're able to do,” she said.

While Brimer said the athletes are made to feel special — it is Special Olympics, after all — she said volunteers and spectators have just as much to gain from the event.

“I really encourage people to come by for a little while. These athletes enjoy showing off,” she said. “They're very serious and yet they're so fun. They have a spirit that is just contagious.”

Vaia said Hannibal High School students will volunteer at the event, including some who participate in traditional athletics.

Local organizations like the Evening Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs have also donated materials and time to make sure the event runs smoothly.

Vaia also praised Hannibal Clinic's Dr. Gina Pontius, who gave athletes the physicals they needed to participate.

“It really allowed a lot of kids to participate who otherwise would not have been able to,” he said.

With the weather expected to cooperate, Vaia and Brimer both predict a fun, successful day for the athletes.

“It's a win-win for everyone. Anyone who's been associated with it in the past has said it's been a great day,” Vaia said.

Athletes will participate in events including 25, 50 and 100 meter runs and walks, wheelchair (motorized and non-motorized) and assisted walks, running/standing long jump, and softball/T-ball throw.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com