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Special Olympics Athletes Parade Through Campus for Opening Ceremony

by on June 06, 2014 6:40 AM

Pittsburgh Police Commander Scott Schubert left Pittsburgh on foot on Monday morning. 

Some 150 miles later, and with the help of over 400 other law enforcement officers from across Pennsylvania, he reached State College with the Special Olympics ‘flame of hope’ torch.

Thursday night, as Schubert and the other participants of the fourth annual police run arrived in State College, teams of athletes from all over Pennsylvania swarmed Penn State’s east campus. The Special Olympics athletes paraded down Curtin Road toward Medlar Field, holding their heads and brightly colored banners high.

Though some events were held earlier in the day, the 45th annual Special Olympics opening ceremony didn’t begin until Thursday evening. Inside the Medlar baseball stadium, a red and blue column topped by a golden cauldron sat centerfield, waiting for the Olympic torch to arrive.

“This is our 27th consecutive year holding these games at Penn State university,” Special Olympian Joseph ‘Sparkie’ Lyle told the crowd. “And we’re celebrating 45 years of activism, charity and competition.” Enthusiastic applause followed.

Luminaries including Representative Glenn Thompson, Senator Jake Corman and Special Olympics Pennsylvania CEO Matthew Aaron thanked the athletes and volunteers and stressed the importance of sportsmanship on and off the field.

Heading into a weekend of athletic contests, Corman posed a different challenge: “As great as this stadium is – and you’ve almost filled it – wouldn’t it be even better if we crossed the street and filled Beaver Stadium?”

Kelly Horn, another athlete and Special Olympics PA global messenger, told the crowd that her involvement in the Special Olympics took her to Ireland for the world games and helped her meet many friends.

“During the next few days you’re going to witness some of the greatest athletic performances seen by anyone on earth,” Horn said.

Soon the roaring of the crowd was overtaken by the roaring of police motorcycles driving into the stadium. With them, came a runner holding a burning torch. The flame of hope had arrived.

Ernie Roundtree, a Special Olympics athlete from Monroe County, raised the torch to cauldron and ignited it. Smiling, he held the torch up to the cheering crowd alongside Schubert, the Pittsburgh police commander.

“It’s life changing being involved with these athletes,” Schubert told Statecollege.com. “You go into some things thinking you’re helping someone, but we found that they’re helping us.”

The ceremony closed with a reminder for each athlete to enjoy their weekend together and a recitation of the Special Olympic athlete’s oath.

“Let me win,” the approximately 2,000 athletes in the crowd shouted.  “But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Outside the stadium, the athletes echoed many of the sentiments in the ceremony.

Don Haffelfinger, a tennis player and Special Olympics athlete since 1994, says his favorite parts of the games are to meet people with similar intellectual disabilities and share sports with the people he loves.

Lyle, or Sparkie as he’s been know since high school, says that his favorite part of being involved with the Special Olympics hasn’t been athletic success or his induction into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. It’s the relationships he formed with his coaches, friends and family.

“It’s sports,” Lyle said simply. “No matter if you have a disability, if you’re going out there and trying as hard as you can, it doesn’t matter if you're first, second, third or last place. You’re the winner.” 

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Michael Martin Garrett is StateCollege.com's general assignment reporter, an alumni of Penn State and the bassist for local indie rock band Sun Whales. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelMGarrett.
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