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Athletes, Volunteers Work Hard to Make Special Olympics Summer Games a Success

by on May 31, 2017 11:25 AM

For about 2,000 athletes, Thursday begins the culmination of sometimes years of hard work focused on a major goal.

They will be competing in the 48th Annual Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Summer Games at Penn State's University Park campus.

"Summer Games is pretty much what all of the athletes strive for," said Michael Daley, central competition director for Special Olympics of Pennsylvania (SOPA). "They are training all year and competing at sectional events, working hard and doing the best they possibly can to get to this point. It’s one of those things that athletes and coaches alike want to get to Penn State. This is where we’ve held the summer games for a number of years. It’s obviously well known in the state and has a reverence that everybody’s excited to be a part of. For the athletes it’s just as high as you can go."

For some, they will be able to go even higher. Some athletes who do well in their divisions will have the opportunity to go to next year's national Special Olympics Summer Games in Seattle.

Athletes from across the state at the SOPA Summer Games compete in events including aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, equestrian, golf, gymnastics, softball and tennis. They're joined by more than 750 coaches.

The games begin on Thursday afternoon, followed by the Parade of Athletes at 6:30 p.m. and the Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. More than 50 law enforcement teams from across the state are participating in the three-day, 150-mile Be a Fan Torch Run, which brings the Olympic torch from PNC Park in Pittsburgh to Medlar Field, where it will be lit on Thursday night.

Games then continue throughout the day on Friday and Saturday,with closing ceremonies at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the field hockey complex. The full schedule of events can be found at pasummergames.com.

The entire weekend is a massive undertaking that Daley said wouldn't be possible with out the more than 1,000 volunteers who give of their time -- some during the games, some year-round.

Daley explained that planning for the next year begins as soon as the games end. Things kick into high gear in November and a committee of dedicated volunteers devote many hours to monthly meetings and planning on their own time.

"Many of them have been doing it for 10, 15, 20 years and they never get tired of it," Daley said. "They love coming back, helping out and being a part of it. Some people this is their first year or their second year in and they’re just as excited about it. It’s a huge undertaking and my committee is the key to all of that."

Volunteers throughout the games are critical to the event's success. They are needed for scorekeeping, timing, escorting athletes, setting up events, preparing dormitories, staffing the Olympic Village and much more. Volunteer opportunities will be available throughout the weekend.

Anyone interested in volunteering can do so individually or as a group at pasummergames.com and pick a time and area that best suits them. But Daley stressed that volunteers are welcome to sign up in person on the days of the events by going to the volunteer tent in front of the We Are statue at the corner of University Drive and Curtin Road.

"That’s the biggest thing we want everyone to know," Daley said. "We accept volunteers day-of for everything we’re doing. Thursday morning through Saturday evening, and we even have some opportunities Sunday morning for cleanup efforts, we need volunteers all throughout."

He noted that volunteers are needed any time through the games, but organizers have found they often have the most need for volunteers during work hours on Friday. Daley also emphasized that with the exception of thunderstorms for outdoor games, all events will be held, rain or shine, and they will need volunteers to help. There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities for indoor events as well. 

This year the games are introducing a new volunteer opportunity, "Fans in the Stands." The effort encourages volunteers to make signs of support for athletes at the volunteer stand then go to their events and cheer them on.

"These athletes train for this the whole year, years sometimes, just to get to this point. Meanwhile many of their families and friends are volunteering with their groups so they’re not necessarily there to cheer them on but helping out other athletes that are part of their team," Daley said. "Fans in the Stands is an effort to showcase what we’re doing just like any other sports event you would go to on the Penn State campus. We want everyone to know these athletes work hard for it. These athletes are seriously competitive across the board in all of our sports and someone should be there to see that and cheer them on."

This is the 30th year that the SOPA Summer Games are being held on the Penn State campus. For many in the State College area, it's a tradition to take off from work or set aside time to be sure they can help out and make the games a success.

"All of the community gets involved in the event. We have volunteers from all over – different high schools, businesses, organizations. Penn State itself plays a big role in it. They all get behind this," Daley said.

"Without the State College community and Penn State we wouldn’t be able to get done the amount we would want to. It’s entirely because of the volunteer effort and everyone that comes out to support it that we are able to get done some of the great things for the athletes."



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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