When he was a Concord Parks and Recreation employee, one of Robin Swaringen's assignments was to help out with the Special Olympics spring track and field games.
He soon realized he didn't need to get paid for assisting such a worthy cause. And that was well before he retired from his job in 2007.
For more than 30 years, Swaringen has dedicated himself to helping Special Olympics of Cabarrus County. Along the way, he's picked up a Dream Team worth of volunteers who now help prepare for the annual spring games.
This year's event will be April 13-14 at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, off N.C. 49 at Old Airport Road. Emily Riley, coordinator of the local Special Olympics, said more than 500 athletes are expected.
Preparing the facility alone is a two-day endeavor for Swaringen and his colleagues. Starting last week, Swaringen, Mike Smith and Henry Thompson were dodging the elements and prepping the grass-and-asphalt competition surface at the arena that's normally used as the midway for the Cabarrus County Fair.
Staying with sports
Smith and Thompson have put in almost as much time with Special Olympics as Swaringen.
Smith started as a teenage protégé of Swaringen in the mid-1980s and got more involved as the years went by. Thompson joined the movement in Wilkes County around 1981, he said. He stayed involved when he moved to Concord to teach in 1987.
Swaringen first got involved in the late '70s, when the games were played at Concord's Webb Field. A few years later, in need of help to line off the field for the events, Swaringen tabbed a young apprentice basketball scorekeeper and referee at the Academy Recreation Center.
"Robin saw that I was interested in staying around sports," Smith said. "He asked if I would be interested in helping with Special Olympics."
Besides preparing the field, Smith was soon helping Swaringen to gather equipment for the competition and to direct athletes through their events. Around 2001, Smith became a permanent fixture on the Special Olympics steering committee.
The competition, and Thompson, both moved to Concord High in 1987. The games stayed there for a few years until Mount Pleasant High, where Thompson had become head football coach in 1989, opened its new campus on Walker Road in the early '90s.
With its track and facilities on the same level of terrain, and thus more easily accessible to athletes and staff, the new school was better suited for the games than previous sites had been.
Legacy of volunteering
When the spring games moved to the Cabarrus Arena in 2006, more muscle was needed to prepare the facility. Because the arena grounds don't have a permanent track, Swaringen, Smith and Thompson use a spray-paint machine to mark lines for the running lanes and other events.
Riley estimated it costs $150 just in supplies to line the field. Smith guessed it would probably cost thousands of dollars to have a contractor replace the work they do.
"They truly are the glue that brings it all together," Riley said. "They have been doing it for so long, they have actually helped me learn how to do it." Swaringen, Smith and Thompson are also instrumental with the coordination of the gameday events, as is Scott Wolfe, a Harrisburg Elementary School physical education teacher and soccer coach at Harrisburg Hickory Ridge.
Arena staff members also assist with some tasks, such as moving bleachers in place for temporary spectator seating, and cleaning up afterward.
"It takes two days to set up and two hours to clean up," Smith said.
And decades to establish a legacy of volunteering.