Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Candice Lange, left, along with friend Nick Price and her son Corey Lange inspect a huge circus bike during a special event at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Friday. Over eight hundred people attended the special event that allowed kids with disabilities or special needs and their families to get a special preview of The Greatest Show on Earth. Lange has Pachyayria, a rare developmental disorder which results from abnormal migration of neurons in the developing brain and nervous system.
DULUTH -- The Big Top isn't quite the same when it is moved into a venue like the Arena at the Gwinnett Center, but that didn't matter to Corey Lange.
The 13-year-old was excited to see the clown's cartoonish bicycle and the animals at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Friday night. He and his family were invited to join more than 200 other special needs children and their families for a free preview of the circus sponsored by Gas South, the Metropolitan Atlanta Mayors Association and Feld Entertainment.
"We do this every year just to see the looks on the children's faces," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who is a part of the association. "It's a way to give the kids special attention and they can get up close and personal (with the circus performers)."
Lange was born with pachygyria, a congenital malformation of the cerebral hemisphere, which caused cerebral palsy and autistic tendencies.
He and his best friend, Nick Price, 13, of Dacula, who has muscular dystrophy, bounced from activity to activity inside of the arena's three rings during the preview event.
Price tried on clown costumes while Lange watched -- he's never been into dressing up, according to his mother, Candice. Before she knew it, the two boys were sharing a large jacket with bright colors and sequins.
"I'm pretty impressed that he got inside of the costume," she said with a laugh. "They're having such a great time -- sometimes just from a distance -- but they're really enjoying themselves."
Children were able to learn how to juggle, walk a tight-rope, take pictures with clowns, bust a move with the dancers, wear plastic clown noses, watch Asia the elephant paint "masterpieces," and more.
This is the third year that the three sponsors have come together to create the event.
"We do it to provide a great night out at the circus for special needs kids and their parents," said CEO and President of Gas South Kevin Greiner. "Feld Entertainment (the circus' company) really puts a lot of thought into the performances and interactions with the children in wheelchairs, who are visually impaired or other challenges."
Each year, children are selected by the mayors of the MAMA. This year, Gwinnett's Mayor Linda Blechinger of Auburn, Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson of Lawrenceville, Mayor Bucky Johnson of Norcross, Mayor Gary Pirkle of Sugar Hill, and Jimmy Burnette of Suwanee chose kids and joined the festivities.
All of the children and their families were invited to stay for the full-length "Fully Charged" circus show. Price, who had never been to the circus before summed it up in eight short words.
"This is the greatest night of my life," he said.
The circus is at the Arena at Gwinnett Center through Sunday.