CLARION, Pa. – Special Olympian Athletes from 13 Western Pennsylvania counties gathered at Hart Chapel for a grand opening ceremony to the Western Pennsylvania Spring Sectional Competition on Sunday, April 6.
More than 200 athletes from distant and near, such as Erie and Butler County, came to participate in sports arranging from golf, swimming and track to tennis and bowling.
Young-Gyoung Kim, director of the Special Olympics and associate professor in the Special Education, Rehabilitation, & Human Services Department, said, “The kids worked really hard throughout the semester; it took a lot of planning. This year we had a lot more volunteers and what we have seen is that when someone volunteers once, they like it so much that they come back.” She continued, “I am really proud of them and without the committee and their dedication this day could not have happened.”
Co-directors of the Special Olympics, C.G. Anderson, an elementary and special education major, and Hannah Stynchula, intervention specialist major, were beaming as they stood at the front podium, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Haley Young, who was also waiting excitedly at the podium, said, “We are all very excited. This year the Games will take place all over campus so the athletes will be able to see most of Clarion University. Altogether, there are around 370 people here, athletes and family included.”
As participants, coaches and families entered into the chapel, they were welcomed by psychology major Dallas James who serenaded the audience with his guitar playing and singing.
CU student in management/marketing Ashley Reefer sang the national anthem, and Moving Forward Tap Dance team performed “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine. Smiles and handshakes were exchanged and contestants began to gather amongst their fellow competitors.
Steve Davis, Dubois-Jefferson Special Olympics Chapter 27 treasurer and father to Johnny Davis, who was competing in the swimming division, stood proudly by his son.
“He is going to be 11 this month,” Davis explained, “and he has been participating with the Special Olympics since he was 8. He practices every Friday for an hour and a half on his kicks and strokes. This is a great experience for him. As a parent I always want to see him win, but what I love to see is the camaraderie between him and the others.”
Johnny Davis added that not only does he like to swim with others, but he likes the water and was excited about the day’s events.
Lonnie Johnson, member of the Clarion University football team, helped introduce the athletes and welcome them to CU and said, “I felt really great about volunteering that day. Like I made a difference.” Johnson also helped a young man tread the script with him. “I gave Kody [the young boy] my phone number after the event in case he ever wanted to just talk to somebody.”
Dr. Karen Whitney arrived to welcome the athletes, bursting with energy and enthusiasm as she walked up on the stage. She commented, “I am a huge fan of the Special Olympics, and it’s a great event for students to attend. It’s an honor to be the host of this year’s competition.” She continued, “These Special Olympic games provides a venue for family and friends to rally around one specific individual. It is very empowering to Olympians and to their families. No matter who we are or what disability someone may have, we are all human beings and we all want to be appreciated. The differently abled get a sense of appreciation from their family and friends when they are Olympians, when their hard work and strength can finally be seen.”
The events throughout the day were filled with laughs, smiles and encouraging faces.
Shelly Reddinger, SOPA Clarion County athlete was the athlete who walked the “Flame of Hope” during the ceremonies to open the sectional. She said, “It was an honor to be asked to do the torch. A lot of people come to the ceremony to see that.”
Reddinger was aided down the aisle by Trooper Robin Mungo from the Pennsylvania State Police.
Athletes who placed in their sports during Sunday’s competition will travel to Penn State to compete in the Summer Games in early June.
DeMarla Eschenbach, a sophomore medical technology major who volunteered said, “This is one of the better events that any student could volunteer and participate in. People with disabilities feel welcomed, have fun and are reassured that they are still an important part of society. It adds normalcy to their lives. Today was an experience that can be found nowhere else.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_facebook type=”standard”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_tweetmeme type=”horizontal”][/vc_column][/vc_row]