Special Olympics Summer Games Begin This Week; Volunteers Still Needed
More than 2,000 athletes will be competing at the 49th Annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games starting Thursday at Penn State's University Park campus, showcasing their skills in what is the major goal of months or years of hard work.
But it takes more than 1,000 volunteers to help make the event as successful as possible, and a little help is still needed on that front.
Teresa Amaturo, central competition director, said about 200 to 300 volunteers are still needed for the games, which open with preliminary competition on Thursday and continue through Saturday. Volunteers are needed to assist with athlete arrival, luggage assistance and equipment tear down, as well as scorekeeping, timing, escorting athletes, setting up events, announcing, judging and much more.
Those wishing to volunteer can register to do so online on the SOPA website or they can register the day of events at the volunteer tent outside the Bryce Jordan Center.
"We would like people to volunteer in advance," Amaturo said. "It would just make it a lot faster that day, but we’re not going to turn anyone away if they show up at our door."
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.
For some athletes, the games are an opportunity to advance to the next level, with several competitions being qualifying events USA and World Summer Games.
"It’s a great time for all the athletes to come together and compete at another level," Amaturo said. "Some of our events are qualifying events. For example, basketball and bowling, these athletes qualify at their sectional level, so to be able to earn that spot to go to Summer Games is a really big deal for those sports. But just in general to be able to come and share the field or any venue with more than 2,000 athletes here, it’s a great experience to be a part of."
The games begin on Thursday afternoon followed by Opening Ceremonies at 7:30 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena. The ceremonies culminate with the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by the Flame of Hope, which is brought to University Park by more than 400 members of law enforcement representing 50 teams from across the state. The Be a Fan Torch Run starts on Tuesday from home plate at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and is carried over the course of three days and 150 miles to University Park.
Competition continues on Friday at nine venues in individual skills, individual events, relay and team events. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey will be on hand and will visit track and field competitions and the Healthy Athletes venues at Pollock Commons.
Healthy Athletes programs offer health education and screenings to Special Olympics athletes throughout the games. The program has made Special Olympics the largest public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities in the world.
Friday's activities concludes with a family ice cream social, Sports Fest and Victory Dance from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Bigler Field. Final competitions and awards will take place at the venues between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
See the full schedule of events and venues here.
A delegation of 50 athletes and 16 coaches who will be representing Team PA at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6 also will be attending the SOPA Summer Games.
In addition to support from volunteers throughout the games, the event takes months of planning and work from a committee of 70 volunteers beginning in January.
"Everyone is doing all of this work on their own time and they meet outside of our regular monthly meetings," Amaturo said. "We come together as a committee once a month and see how everyone’s doing but for the most part they spend six months doing all the work on their own time."
This marks the 31st year that the SOPA Summer Games are being held at Penn State and Amaturo said support from the local community has always been strong.
"The support has been great from the university and everyone involved with it, from our volunteers and our committee," she said. "Everyone’s come together to put on the best event possible for our athletes."
Amaturo hopes that once again that many in the local community will share in the excitement.
"It’s an exciting day of competition showcasing what our athletes can do," she said. "Everyone should come out and be a part of it."
$500,000 State Grant Awarded
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman announced last week that Special Olympics PA has been awarded a $500,000 state grant to assist with its year-round efforts to provide free sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“Providing state support for Special Olympics PA helps to ensure the program will be able to continue to provide an incredible opportunity for the Olympians free of charge,” Corman said in a release. “The lessons learned through Special Olympics go well beyond the playing fields. The Olympians demonstrate courage and determination when they take the field. The friends, family and other athletes supporting them see true strength of mind and character illustrated with every step, throw and finish-line celebration.”
The money was part of the 2017-18 appropriations process and supports the group’s efforts to provide ongoing opportunities for athletes to participate in the Summer Games. SOPA trains about 20,000 athletes a year who participate in 24 sports at more than 260 local, sectional, and state level competitions.
"Special Olympics PA is incredibly grateful to the Commonwealth for providing support that makes life-changing events like the Summer Games possible for individuals with intellectual disabilities from all over the state,” said Matthew Aaron, president and CEO of Special Olympics PA. “Senator Corman has been at the forefront of championing efforts to ensure our athletes are included on the playing field, in their schools, and in their communities. This year, more than 2,000 athletes and nearly 800 coaches will experience the joy, friendships, and sports competition that are what make the Summer Games so great, thanks to this incredible support."