Special Olympics Open At Penn State With Paternos at the Helm
Bright banners, blue and white pom-poms and multi-colored flags waved from Curtin Road to Medlar Field Thursday night during the annual Parade of Athletes for the 43rd Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Summer Games.
Athletes and coaches dressed in vibrant T-shirts and neon sneakers weren't the only ones excited for the Opening Ceremonies despite gloomy skies and chilly temperatures on Penn State's campus.
Sue Paterno has been involved with the Special Olympics since the mid-1980s and now serves on the Board of Directors, as well as the special events committee. She said she looks forward to the games every year and what it has to offer each of the athletes.
"It's the world," she said. "It's their world."
Thursday's Opening Ceremonies marked the beginning of three full days of competitions and events that will involve over 2,000 athletes and 750 coaches from across the state with athletes competing in events ranging from aquatics to gymnastics.
Whatever the event, Sue Paterno said the Summer Games have more to offer than competition or teamwork.
"Special Olympics have brought them out into the real world," she said. "Because of their abilities to function and do what they do, people respect them. I like what it (the Special Olympics) does for their self-esteem."
Kellie Goodman, Bedford County Chamber of Commerce Director, emceed the ceremonies with two honorary athletes who helped to introduce the evening's special guest speaker, Jay Paterno.
After a standing ovation, the former Penn State assistant football coach explained that he had been asked to speak about something inspirational to kick off the games.
"You guys are the inspiration," Jay said. "This is competition at its finest."
He spoke about how meaningful Special Olympics are to him and his family before leaving the athletes and coaches with advice from his late father, Joe Paterno.
"Don't be afraid to compete," Jay said.
Carol Bair of State College is in her third year of volunteering. After observing her niece, who has Down Syndrome, compete in an equestrian event during the 2010 Summer Games at Penn State, she said she got tears in her eyes and knew that she had to start volunteering.
"Just seeing the level of pride when an athlete finishes an event makes you feel good," Bair said. "It's awesome."
No matter what time athletes complete their race or what medal they receive, Sue Paterno said the "joy on their face" alone is enough satisfaction for her.
"No one in the world is perfect ... except my special athletes," she said. "They are."
For more information and a schedule of events for this year's events visit www.specialolympicspa.org.