Mildenhall holds Joan Mann Sports day event for special-needs athletes
By CHRISTOPHER DENNIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2019
MILDENHALL, England – Hundreds of special-needs athletes were welcomed last week with cheers and applause at RAF Mildenhall for an annual competition that the air base has hosted since 1981.
The 100th Air Refueling Wing, 48th Fighter Wing and 352nd Special Operations Wing helped put on the 38th Annual Joan Mann Special Sports Day for nearly 250 athletes.
Mann, a British Defense Ministry employee who worked at the base, began organizing the annual event to offer community members with special needs a day of fun, and to bring the military and area residents closer together, the 100th ARW said in a statement. Mann died in 2006.
“I believe that if Joan Mann could be here, she would be smiling at what this event has become,” Col. Troy Pananon, the refueling wing’s commander, said at the opening of the event.
The sports day kicked off with an Olympic-style ceremony, complete with torch-lighting and a parade of athletes. Since its founding 38 years ago, it has grown to become one of the larger events held on base, said Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nunez, a refueling wing spokesman.
Some of the athletes come from as far away as Norwich, about 50 miles to the northwest, and Colchester, about 60 miles to the southeast, coordinators and participants said. Each is paired up with a volunteer from an Air Force unit.
About 650 base volunteers helped put on the event, said lead organizer 2nd Lt. David Smith. Planning took 10 months and involved 12 committees, said Smith, a relative newcomer to the base.
Around $10,000 in donations was raised to support the event, which included an awards ceremony and lunch for all participants. the organizers said. Athletes received t-shirts and goodie bags, too.
Events included a basketball shoot-out, obstacle course, bowling and golf.
“I liked the bowling and golf,” said Katie Warrent, a participant from Norwich
This was her second year participating in the event, said her father, Stephen Warrant, and they plan to come back again.
“We’ll be down every year, as long as we get invited,” he said.