Saline High School Connect Students with Special Olympics Michigan athletes.

Special Olympics Michigan in Washtenaw County held their annual Spring Games this past week at Saline High School. Athletes across the county competed in events such as the running long jump and the 100-meter dash. Scores from the day's events are then used for the athletes attending the State Summer Games in June in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

During the Spring Games, athletes are paired up with two Saline High School Connecting students. Connecting is a Saline High School program that is comprised of more than 150 individuals dedicated to the inclusion of all students. Connecting teacher Patricia Fair said the program helps her students learn about a world outside of Saline. It teaches them empathy and respect. Plus, the athletes involved get to learn from peers, build friendships and improve social skills.

"Connecting students benefit the athletes by helping them get to their events on time and giving them their own little fan club for the day," Patricia said.

The Spring Games bring out community volunteers and spectators from all over who aim to help these athletes showcase their abilities and cheer them on.

Special Olympics Michigan athlete Phillip Smith.

Area Co-Director Kristi Haywood said, "Connecting students really help encourage the athletes and make them feel special."

Kristi said, "It's great to have so many people cheering on the athletes in addition to their families. It shows our athletes how many people support them and how much they are valued."

Special Olympics Michigan athlete Phillip Smith loves to be with his friends at Special Olympics Michigan events.

His mother Linda Smith said, "Being a part of a group that is unique to him is very satisfying. He remembers his siblings competing in high school, and Special Olympics belongs to him."

This year's Washtenaw County Spring Games were a great success. Athletes, general education students, volunteers and spectators from across the area came out to encourage acceptance and unity in the community. Athletes built friendships and showcased their abilities to a crowd who cheered way past the finish lines.