A new tradition was started at Buford City Schools recently, one that brought joy to many and unified a community. That tradition came by playing a game of softball. Not just any game of softball, but one with a unique and heartwarming approach where students demonstrated maximum effort, a heart for others and the amazing abilities of all individuals.
The Buford Unified Softball Game that took place Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Buford Softball Complex showcased athletes from Buford High School and Buford Middle School’s first-ever Special Olympics team.
“After completing training for Special Olympics Softball and practicing through our Adaptive Physical Education classes, taught by coaches Gus Condon and Cassie Bro, we wanted to have an opportunity for our students to showcase all of the skills that they had acquired in an encouraging environment,” Buford High School special education teacher Maggie Pruitt said.
Each athlete was paired with one or two varsity players from the various teams at the high school, and these pairings were mutually beneficial.
“By creating these unified partnerships between athletes, nerves were calmed, excitement was built and success was inevitable,” Pruitt said.
When Pruitt, with the help of Buford Middle School special education teacher Heidi Waller, brought together a group of coaches, teachers and administrators to plan out the game, it quickly turned into a “go big or go home” type of event.
“The continuous flow of ideas came together to make this a night that would be unforgettable,” Pruitt said. “Uniforms, Jumbotron graphics, walk-out songs, concessions, first-pitch, National Anthem, a DJ, student cheering section, student-athletes and a million more little details.”
Pruitt’s father, Ernie Johnson, a TBS sports broadcaster, welcomed the crowd to the game and stayed on to serve as announcer for the duration of the event. The Special Olympics Oath was recited by Steven Russell, BHS student and ambassador for Special Olympics Georgia; the National Anthem was performed by the BHS choral group; and Ashley Condon, director of student services for Buford City Schools threw out the first pitch of the game.
Gus Condon was the pitcher for both teams while BHS assistant principal Justin Johnson was the lone umpire of the game.
The packed out stadium was treated to a spectacular display of the very best of humanity and hard work. One batter after another came out and showed spectators just how much they had practiced during the adaptive PE classes.
Each player smashed the ball and took off around the bases. Some of the athletes, much to the delight of the crowd, ran the bases in the best way possible — hitchhiking on the backs of their varsity partner. The stadium erupted as each athlete hit the ball and made their way around the bases. The cheers as players crossed home plate were deafening.
“One of the greatest things to witness on Thursday evening was not only seeing the joy, excitement and confidence on our Special Olympics Athletes faces, but the smiles, encouragement and selflessness from our Varsity athletes that were on the field, too,” Pruitt said. “We just have the greatest kids in this community, and I believe everyone left better than when they arrived.”
“I think we just started a new Buford tradition tonight,” said Buford City Schools Superintendent Melanie Reed.
FEATURED PHOTO: Special Olympic athletes from Buford High School and Buford Middle School were paired with varsity athletes from BHS to play in the first-ever Buford Unified Softball Game held on Nov. 3, 2022, at the Buford Softball Complex. Photo by Blake Pace.