Among thousands of participants in the 34th Annual Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run early Friday were a special group of youngsters from Ridgefield Park.
"The children had a great time -- and so did everyone," Alison Butler, a teacher's assistant at Lincoln Elementary School, told Daily Voice.
The 21 young participants -- joined by a dozen adults -- range from first to 6th grade, said Butler, who raised $1,300 for the cause.
They ran alongside Bogota police and other community members on their local leg of the run, which made its way through North Jersey on a sun-splashed morning.
"There were spectators on the sidewalks clapping and cheering for everyone as they were running," Butler said. "My students were giving everyone a 'high five' and waving.
"It was a truly humbling event."
Children elsewhere throughout New Jersey joined nearly 3,000 officers who ushered a "Flame of Hope" across nearly 750 miles, stopping at or passing through just about every town in Bergen and Passaic counties, as spectators cheered.
Participants were hoping to break last year's $3.7 million record during Friday's 26 legs of the run, which began at 4:45 a.m.
Hasbrouck Heights police came in 2nd for a second straight year by raising $30,000 -- the department's 16th straight Top 10 finish.
Ridgefield PBA Local 330 finished 7th and Saddle River police 9th -- giving Bergen three of the top 10 in the state (The Middlesex/Dunnellen PBAs led the way).
All involved were grateful for the moderate temperatures, sunshine, camaraderie -- and the cheers.
"The runners alongside the students were making sure that the students were okay," Butler said. "One of the students jumped into the arms of one of the men running and he carried him a little distance.
"It was a truly amazing sight to see."
The ultimate destination: The College of New Jersey in Ewing, where the torch was to light a cauldron officially launching the Special Olympics New Jersey 2016 Summer Games around 7:30 p.m.
The games run through the weekend, with more than 2,500 athletes competing in seven sports: aquatics, bocce, gymnastics, power-lifting, softball, tennis and track & field.
Special Olympics New Jersey relies mostly on individual, corporate, civic and foundation contributions. One of its top grassroots contributors, the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) is part of an international campaign coordinated and managed by all divisions of law enforcement officers and officials from throughout the world.
MORE INFO / DONATE: http://www.sonj.org/
Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon launched the International Torch Run in 1981. New Jersey held its first run in 1984, from Liberty State Park in Jersey City to Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick.
The international event has expanded throughout the U.S. to 35 nations and 12 Canadian provinces.
Special Olympics New Jersey provides free year-round sports training and athletic competition in 24 Olympic-type sports for more than 23,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
BERGEN COUNTY: Allendale, Bergenfield, Bergen County Sheriff's Office, Bogota, Carlstadt, Closter, Creskill, Demarest, Dumont, East Rutherford, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Emerson, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Garfield, Glen Rock, Hackensack, Hasbrouck Heights,Hillsdale, Ho-Ho-Kis, Leonia, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, Maywood, Midland Park, Montvale, New Milford, North Arlington, Northvale, Norwood, Oakland, Oradell, Palisades Park, Paramus, Park Ridge, Ramsey, Ridgefield, Ridgewood, River Edge, Rochelle Park, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Saddle River, South Hackensack, Teaneck, Tenafly, Upper Saddle River, Waldwick, Washington Township, Wood-Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Wyckoff
PASSAIC COUNTY: Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, North Haledon, Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, Passaic County Sheriff's Department, Passaic, Paterson, Pompton Lakes, Prospect Park, Wayne, West Milford, William Paterson University