With COVID-19 repeatedly cancelling events, Franklin County’s Special Olympics have also been hit by the pandemic, so area law enforcement officers joined forces on Nov. 19 in a special Torch Run.
About 35 officers from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s police departments, the Manchester Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol went the distance from the Estill Springs Police Department to Franklin County High School in Winchester.
Some officers who are avid runners went the entire 6.2-mile distance while others ran quarter- and half-mile intervals — all in an effort to raise needed funds for a program put on hold due to the pandemic.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Investigator Sam Davidson said Franklin County’s interest in having the event stemmed from how successful the Manchester Police Department’s Torch Run has been, and it seemed worthwhile to extend the effort to Franklin County to help its Special Olympics athletes.
“We’re doing our part to help out by having a special Torch Run,” Davidson said, then referring to the pandemic’s impact on the Special Olympics. “The Torch Run is a big deal, and they didn’t get to do it this year.”
Manchester Police Chief Mark “Yogi” Yother participated to carry on the example in Franklin County that his city had set in neighboring Coffee County.
He said officers have participated in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run that was established in 1981 as Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraiser and has been a mainstay in other parts of the nation.
Yother said former Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief Joe Casey was instrumental in having the Torch Run’s roots extend into Tennessee, and other law enforcement agencies have followed suit.
He said other Torch Runs have been sponsored by law enforcement agencies in Bristol, Elizabethton, Johnson City and Greeneville, and the movement has carried on through other parts of the state, including Manchester and Franklin County.
Yother gave a pep talk to runners before they started the Torch Run at the Estill Springs Police Department.
He referred to how the pandemic has interrupted countless schedules.
“It’s been hard for everybody,” he said, then telling the officers their participation was an opportunity to help a cause that brightens the lives of Special Olympics athletes who have had to deal with their own personal struggles, impacted further by the pandemic.
Holly Wilder, current FCHS school resource officer, agreed.
“With the current state of our county and country with the obstacles of COVID, what an honor and privilege it is to be able to recognize students from our school,” she said. “We would hope that this event projects a positive attitude of working together and doing things to promote a welcoming environment at FCHS.”
Sheriff’s Investigator Nick Watson, who had been an FCHS school resource officer, said participating in the event was well worth his time.
“It means a lot,” he said, referring to the unity among the different law enforcement agencies to join forces together in a community effort. “This helps spread the message about special-needs kids, and it was a thrill to be in this.”
Davidson said the Torch Run is specifically geared to increase awareness about the cause in hopes that residents may contribute to help the Special Olympics.
Donations can be made by sending contributions to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, attention Investigator Sam Davidson, 494 George Fraley Parkway, Winchester, TN 37398.