SANTA ROSA BEACH — The word festive might be an understatement when describing the Special Olympics-sponsored field day at Emerald Coast Middle School on Friday. As buses filled with Exceptional Student Education participants from 13 schools across Walton County arrived, volunteers and supporters lined the track to cheer them on.

The seventh annual field day event kicked off with a welcome parade around the track, an athlete’s oath and energetic music to set the tone. About 125 ESE students and 100 volunteers took part in track and field events such as short-distance walks and runs, the long jump, shot put and softball throw.

“We have our traditional Special Olympics program, but this is a field day to prepare them for that,” said Damien McNeil, regional director for Special Olympics Florida. “What we do is we try to facilitate sports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

McNeil said the Special Olympics differs from the Paralympics by focusing on those with intellectual and developmental setbacks, in addition to physical ones. He added that the Special Olympics program serves people as young as 8, while Walton County's field day allows all school-age children to participate.

“We have around 15 year-round sports in Walton county,” McNeil said of the official program. “Coming up we have surfing, paddleboarding golf and swimming for the summer, and then we will have more in the fall.”

Throughout the morning, participants laughed, danced and enjoyed the friendly competition.

When asked what his favorite part of field day is, South Walton High School freshman Zane Bennett said it was the camaraderie.

“Probably being with everyone, just hanging out,” he said. “It’s fun.”