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City Blog is taking a look at the good work performed by various corporate citizens. AEgis Technologies, a defense contractor with headquarters in Cummings Research Park, employs 350 and serves as the corporate sponsor for the North Alabama Special Olympics Track and Field meet.

For one glorious day, the applause is for them. The spotlight beams. Cheerleaders relentlessly shake pompoms to urge them on.

“It’s the one time of year there is group of people there and they’re cheering for her,” Teresa Smith says of her daughter Lakely Stapler. “And you can see huge, huge joy.”

Lakely, 16, is one of more than 600 people who will be competing next Tuesday in the North Alabama Special Olympics Track and Field events at Milton Frank Stadium.

Special Olympics does a superb job of utilizing sport to inspire people with intellectual disabilities to discover new strengths, build confidence and find great joy.”

Teresa Smith is an executive assistant for the chief technological officer at AEgis Technologies. It has to be one of the sweetest interoffice communications ever when she learned more than five years ago that AEgis was jumping on board as the driving corporate force behind the Special Olympics meet.

“It thrilled me,” she says.

Many companies and individuals generously devote time and resources to the Special Olympics, but this has become “our signature philanthropic event of the year,” says Georgina Chapman, marketing and communications manager for AEgis.

“Special Olympics does a superb job of utilizing sport to inspire people with intellectual disabilities to discover new strengths, build confidence and find great joy through competition,” says Steve Hill, the co-founder and president/CEO of AEgis. “The track and field event is a high point of our year as so many smiles, hugs, and high fives are exchanged between the athletes and volunteers.  The love poured out during the event is truly awe-inspiring.”

“It’s a huge job and it is a lot of work,” Smith says, “but I think you could ask anybody in this company, it’s the most rewarding and the best feeling ever. It’s worth every ounce of hard work and money that’s put in it.”

AEgis shields the warfighter

First of all, the capital A and E are correct. It’s from ancient Greek – it’s pronounced like a long E – and means shield.

That’s appropriate to the company mission. Says Chapman, “We are a modeling and simulation company and we protect the warfighter. We support the warfighter and make sure they can come home safely.”

AEgis had modest beginnings. Steve Hill and Bill Waite were the founders, co-workers at another contractor who struck out on their own in 1989 with “differing gifts and abilities but a common goal,” as Hill wrote after Waite’s death in July 2015.

It is part of company lore that they began working in a garage, and once met with a man in a Taco Bell parking lot to buy their first computer printer out of the man’s trunk, a $60 machine they had seen advertised in the classified section of the newspaper.

AEgis started with five employees and has grown to more than 350, with other offices in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Albuquerque; it is also represented on a smaller basis in a number of cities and at military installations.

Though primarily a traditional aerospace and defense contractor, its modeling and 3D simulation expertise has led to many commercial applications. Among them: AEgis worked with NBC TV to create a 3D model of Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics; it has continued the relationship with the network for ensuing major telecast projects.

AEgis and the Athletes

Lakely Stapler has Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, an extremely rare disorder that leads to developmental delays, severe intellectual disabilities, breathing abnormalities and lack of speech. Through the years, she would follow her brothers Caige and Tristan (the latter is her twin) “from event to event,” as Teresa says.

Teresa will always remember the Special Olympics moment when Caige served as a volunteer.

“He’s very competitive and he was running along with her. He was determined she’s going to win,” she recalls. “He was dragging her. Nobody can do that to her but him. It was the best and funniest thing to watch.”

Figuratively, AEgis (which held a fundraising golf tournament in Lakely’s honor) will be helping 600-plus athletes across the finish line on Tuesday.

The company provides hundreds of volunteers, handles printing needs, assures all the participants and their escorts are fed, helps administer some events – pretty much everything up to and including bringing employees who’ll spend all day along the track, waving pompoms to cheer on the athletes.

It’s worth every ounce of hard work and money that’s put in it.”

The participants are from Huntsville City Schools, Madison County Schools and City of Madison Schools, as well as home-school students, representatives from private schools and the Opportunity Center. Top finishers qualify for the state meet, to be held in the spring.

Each athlete has an escort to guide them through the day, striking up a personal relationship that benefits both parties. The Special Olympics touches not just the athletes, but the spectators.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Smith says. “You go out there and you see these children and adults, you get nothing but joy and love from that.”