Special Olympics Summer Games Bring Special Days for Athletes, Community
More than 2,000 athletes, 1,000 volunteers and 750 coaches will be on hand as the 47th Annual Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Summer Games is held on Penn State's University Park campus Thursday through Saturday.
The annual three-day event features competition in aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, equestrian, golf, gymnastics, softball and tennis. This marks the 29th year the SOPA Summer Games are being held at University Park.
"State College has been a wonderful host for SOPA for many years, and Penn State has been an amazing partner," SOPA President and CEO Matthew Aaron said. "In fact, the bond is so close that for three days each June, our athletes competing at Summer Games identify themselves as part of the PSU family... cheering 'We Are!' loudly and enthusiastically regardless of from which corner of the state they hail."
Events begin on Thursday afternoon with preliminary competition. The traditional opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in Pegula Ice Arena (moved from Medlar Field due to forecasted rain), concluding with the lighting of the Olympic Torch by participants in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run. The three-day, 150-mile run began Tuesday at home plate of PNC Park in Pittsburgh. More than 400 members of law enforcement representing more than 50 teams from across the state participate by carrying the torch over the segmented run to University Park.
Competition on Friday begins at 8 a.m. with events taking place throughout the day at numerous venues -- McCoy Natatorium, White Building, IM Building, Snider Ag Arena, Sarni Tennis Complex, Park Avenue fields, Northland Bowl and Centre Hills Country Club. The day will conclude with a Family Ice Cream Social, Sports Fest and Victory Dance on Bigler Field from 7-9:30 p.m.
"Summer games are a very exciting time of year for both the athletes and their families," said Marty Mereen, an athlete parent and Bedford County Special Olympics volunteer. "It is a wonderful way for the athletes to have a chance to travel, see what life on a college campus is all about, see old friends and make new ones, compete with other athletes from all across the state in a sport that they have trained hard for, and have a lot of fun at things like the dance and Olympic Village."
Penn State student-athletes from men’s basketball, football, men’s and women’s hockey, women's soccer, men’s and women's swimming and diving and women's volleyball are among the sports that will be represented in the volunteer corps at Thursday’s opening ceremonies, Friday night’s SportsFest, basketball and bowling events.
Final competitions and awards will take place at each venue between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Closing Ceremonies will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Pollock Commons Beaver Quad with voice of Penn State football and basketball Steve Jones serving as emcee.
"The entire community has been welcoming and has been great fans of our athletes -- whether by coming out to volunteer for our largest state event or by offering year-round service and encouragement," said Clare Walsh Miller , SOPA senior vice president of programming. "Athletes, volunteers and staff all look forward to coming to Penn State for our Summer Games for the thrill of outstanding athletic competition but also, for the genuine support and care we get from the entire area.”
The weekend also includes the Healthy Athletes programs in Pollock Commons where health promotion, fitness, eye, ear, dental, and podiatry health screenings will be offered.
"The Healthy Athletes program provides medical, dental, optometric and podiatry services to many who otherwise wouldn't have access to these services, as well as teaching them about a healthier lifestyle," said Mereen.
"We know from research that our athletes face greater health disparities than the general population," Aaron added. "Our Healthy Athlete program is the largest public health initiative in the world for people with intellectual disabilities, and we screen hundreds of athletes each year at Summer Games."
For athletes and their families, the entire weekend is a memorable one and a special opportunity.
"Their families get a chance to see the joy and pride of their athlete, who don't always have opportunities like this," Mereen said. "It is all at no cost to the athletes, which can mean a lot to many families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.
For more information on the Summer Games, visit www.sopasummergames.net