WAXAHACHIE — Though Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium was the backdrop for the living portrait that was Tuesday's Special Olympics track meet, kelly green wasn't the only color painted on the canvas.
There were color splashes from nearly every corner and ISD in North Texas — from the orange of Ferris to the blue of Duncanville to the maroon of Red Oak to the darker blue of Life Waxahachie.
Even East Texas' Mabank, a city 52 miles due west of Waxahachie, made an appearance on the turf of Lumpkins Stadium.
June Flowers, an 18-year special needs pro-inclusion coordinator with WISD and a woman that's dedicated more than 30 years of her life to the special needs community, said seeing the colors of a community as far away as Mabank shows how much the track meet has grown in three decades.
"It's gotten a lot bigger in 30 years," Flowers said, laughing at herself as she remembered all the years and athletes that she's met. "Then, the numbers were low — like five or 10 athletes per city. Now, there's almost forty. We started with close to 100 athletes at our first meet and now there's more that 400."
Red Oak started with 30 athletes in 1987 now has 85 and Duncanville which posted high numbers in the beginning, swelled to near 100.
That's more than 100 athletes and volunteers each to manage and nearly a thousand hours to plan and prepare a year on average. When stretched across the span of 30 years, those numbers blossom into thousands of people and near 50 thousand hours.
She said whether they win or lose and regardless of the time forfeited, the focus has always been on planting the idea of equality and letting each athlete know they are just as valuable and precious as anyone they pass daily in life.
Her impact isn't consolidated to the athletes, though.
The non-disabled students of WISD are driven to follow her lead. Some, like the 30-boy and girl Waxahachie Ninth Grade Student Council, built "fun tents" that do everything from providing athletes entertainment in between races via Nerf bats and bubbles to face painting and coloring stations.
"I think a lot of our young people don't get a fair shake," said Lisa Minton, the educator charged with leading the WNGA Student Council this year. "They truly do understand what it means to serve. They know that serving has power and that we need to look beyond ourselves. Sometimes we don't see that in them, but I've seen it since I began teaching them."
Other students, like two-time area shot put selection Maghan Baxter, volunteer year in and year out.
The yearly track meet holds special significance for the nearly 6-foot senior, though and both Flowers' impact and her yearly service to her fellow community members touch a distinctive part of her heart — and life.
Baxter's 11-year-old brother, Lane Nelson was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old.
According to the National Autism Association, Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social impairments, cognitive impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors. It can range from very mild to very severe and occur in all ethnic, socioeconomic and age groups — though males are four times more likely to have autism than females.
By being able to touch the life of one child positively, Baxter said she can return the grace given to her and her brother tenfold.
"At first I came out here because I thought it would be really fun, but in time it became something more," Baxter said. "I think being able to do what I do is something rare. I'm really blessed to be able to do what I do, but for someone to want to work hard and come out here and be great even though there's something that wants to try to hold them back from doing something that's easy to us is amazing. I see people around here that have something mentally or physically wrong with them work harder than some of the people around here that look like there's nothing wrong with them and have so much potential."
Baxter motioned toward Flowers, who was busily gathering recorded scores and rushing them to the scorer's table, noting that though her 30-year mark was a surprise, the impact she's had in WISD is not. She said that as an elementary school student in Italy, she never knew those types of events existed.
Baxter's inexperience with aiding the special needs community ended the day she met the woman with a larger-than-life personality.
Though the track meet is an annual machine that requires the help of cogs and parts each as valuable as the next, at the core of the event – whether she cares to admit it or not – lies Flowers gesturing, directing and caring when life doesn't require her to.
Her impact was so great that, per a 2009 Waxahachie ISD proclamation by former Principal David Nix, April 23 is known as June Flowers Day within the school district. Nix bestowed the honor in "recognition of the hours she has spent with the special athletes, the love she has shown them and the lasting impression she’s made on them."
Flowers' tireless efforts even warmed the heart of a former Daily Light Correspondent, who may have had the most accurate description of one of the hardest working women in 'Hachie that works less for herself and more for others.
A woman befitting the name June — or Juno in Roman mythology — that was a protector goddess of ancient lore.
"A few years back, I had the honor and pleasure of covering the pep rally and luncheon for this newspaper. What an amazing time I had covering these events," former Daily Light Correspondent Guila Jackson said in an April 2013 letter to the editor. "There was so much love shown during those events. It truly touched me to see this. Spending just five minutes with these athletes and their coaches is a blessing beyond belief. The love these athletes have for June Flowers is truly something that will warm even the coldest of hearts."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.