If you want to put a smile on your face and those of special needs athletes around the state, stop by the WVU Coliseum at 8 p.m. Friday, June 4, for opening ceremonies of the West Virginia Special Olympics Summer Games.
Some 700 men, women and children with intellectual disabilitieshailing from at least 30 counties in West Virginia and one in Marylandwill enter the main arena carrying their respective banners, but wearing their pride on their sleeves. They are expected to enter the Coliseum floor through a giant inflatable Mountaineer football helmet. The Parade of Athletes will be led by Monongalia County athletes Regina Boyle and Jeff Dunn.
The event marks the seventh year WVU has hosted the summer games, and organizers say it marks the beginning of three days of camaraderie, sportsmanship and fun.
Carrying in the Flame of Hope and lighting the cauldron that officially signals the beginning of the games will be Jeramie Satterfield, a Special Olympian from Marion County, accompanied by Officer Scott Carpenter of the Parkersburg Police Department.
Providing Satterfield and his fellow athletes and coaches with a warm welcome is the purpose of opening ceremonies, said Eloise Tomei, event coordinator.
We really hope to draw a big crowd this year,Tomei said.The Coliseum is a large arena and it appears empty if only a few hundred people are there. We seem to have lots of volunteers for the weekend itself, but attendance on opening night has been disappointing in recent years. Were hopeful that the town will come out in force Friday night.
Tomei encourages families, church and civic groups, scouting organizations and others to lend a few hours of their time to cheer on and encourage the athletes.
In return, these athletes will inspire you with their courage, determination and attitude,she said.
This years theme isGo the Distancefrom the Disney movieHercules.The theme was chosen to promote a spirit of doing ones bestno matter what the odds, organizers say.
Special Olympics is about doing your best, win or lose, and building self-esteem and confidence along the way,Tomei added.Thats why we chose to promote the mythical Greek hero Hercules, who was renowned for his great strength and never-ending pursuit to overcome obstacles.
Trevor Nicholas, a WVU theater major and the son of popular entertainer Bobby Nicholasa regular at past summer gameswill sing the theme song.
Popular play-by-play announcer for the Mountaineer Sports Network, Tony Caridi, will return as master of ceremonies, and WVU head basketball coach John Beilein will give the official welcome on behalf of the University.
Mayor Ron Justice will bring greetings from the host city and Philip Reale, chairman of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics West Virginia, will present the George A. Davis
Award for Couragea memorial award named for Davis, a Jackson County Special Olympian who lost his battle with cancer, but whose courage was evidenced in his indomitable spirit.
Two student-athletesPatrick Beilein and Meg Bulger.will offer inspirational messages to the competitors.
Bulger, a 6-foot sophomore guard from Pittsburgh, Pa., plans to tell the athletes to give it their bestin not only sports, but in life.Its amazing how these athletes persevere through adversity,she said.Through their hard work and determination, they inspire all of us to do the same.
Beilien, a 6-foot, 4-inch junior guard from Morgantown, said he will talk to the competitors about the importance of goal setting, hard work, learning from mentors and idolsandjust having fun.
Assistant head wrestling coach Zeke Jones, who was recently named to help coach the 2004 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, will be on hand to declare the gamesofficially open.”
Special Olympics West Virginia CEO John Corbett said the Olympians are like any other athlete in that they feed off the crowd.
Our athletes draw energy from the enthusiasm of the volunteers and spectators,Corbett said,so we sincerely hope that folks from the Morgantown community continue to provide a high dose of that enthusiasm for our athletes at opening and closing ceremoniesand all activities in between.
Once the ceremony concludes, the eager athletes will return to the Evansdale Residential Complex to get some rest so they can rise bright and early Saturday for competitions ranging from bocce and track to swimming and wheelchair races.
Once the competitions, medal ceremonies and extracurricular activities draw to a chose, Sundays 11:45 a.m. closing ceremonies at the WVU Track will conclude the weekend activities.
Athletes will form a Friendship Circle around the track and community representatives will show their appreciation to the Special Olympians, their coaches and the volunteers. The games will officially be declared closed until next June once the Flame of Hope is extinguished.