Special Olympics kicks off with a ceremony |

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STATE COLLEGE — Sean Hanley and Matthew Dreher met 13 years ago when Hanley started coaching the Montgomery County-based Special Olympics basketball team in Dreher.

Over the past decade, the two have spent countless hours on the basketball court during practices and games while cementing their coach-athlete bond.

On Thursday, Dreher, with Hanley by his side, arrived on the Penn State campus as captain of his Lansdale Titans 5-on-5 basketball team. The duo were among many athletes, coaches, parents and volunteers gathered at inside Penn State Hockey’s Pegula Ice Zone to signal the start of this year’s Summer Games during the opening ceremonies.

“I’ve been involved with Special Olympics since I was in ninth grade,” Hanley, 50, said. It’s an amazing thing to see our guys become one. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Athletes from their respective delegations occupied the seats in the lower bowl of the Pegula Ice Arena while a stage occupied part of the floor near the student section of the arena. Members of the Bellefonte Community Band played live music on the other side. The ceremony began with a parade of athletes as members of the delegations took the floor with their respective flags.

Kenny Fahri was one of many volunteers present to attend the opening ceremonies. The Hollidaysburg resident is employed by Sheetz, which is one of the Summer Games sponsors.

“Whenever I see something where I can give back and help in any way, I want to do it,” Fahri, 35, said. “We had announced it through work. … I will always jump at the chance to come and help. All the athletes here are so excited. The more people who can volunteer and help out, the better the atmosphere and the better the day the athletes have.

This year marks the return of the Summer Games to Penn State University after a two-year hiatus. In 2020, the event took on a virtual format.

“We thought that would be the only time we would have to do it, and last year we had to do it again,” said Matt Aaron, president and CEO of Special Olympics Pennsylvania. “We are really excited to be back this year in person. Our athletes are happy and excited. The volunteers are delighted. Penn State is excited.

The three-day event draws more than 1,100 athletes representing 38 counties to Penn State’s flagship campus. They will compete in basketball, softball, volleyball, track and field, swimming, horseback riding, golf and tennis. Although athletic competition is what brings athletes to the Summer Games, it is only part of the experience. An Olympic Village located on campus will serve as a base where athletes can participate in fun activities and events between competitions. Health and fitness screenings will also be offered. A Victory Dance/Sports Festival is planned for this evening, where a DJ, field games and outdoor activities will welcome the athletes.

” Everybody is happy ; they smile; they are finally together again,” said Erika Christiansen, Central Competition Manager for Special Olympics Pennsylvania. “Even with the COVID problem, the cases are increasing, they are still ready to be here. They are ready to wear the masks. We have a special agreement with Penn State Departments, Facilities, Campus Recreation and ICA. They must wear their mask inside, but they can lower it when participating in their activity.

After a two-year absence, State College and Center County will once again welcome a community of enthusiastic athletes, coaches and parents. The sport is what brings them to Penn State, but many athletes will leave with friendships they will have forever.

“A lot of them see each other once a year when they come to the Summer Games,” Aaron said. “So it’s like a reunion. They get back together, they see their friends, and they’re excited to hang out and compete. So they work hard during the day, they compete hard, and then they go out and they’re friends. … It’s about friendships, and that’s really what Special Olympics is.Special Olympics aims to bring joy into the lives of not only our athletes, but the whole community.


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