For the first time since 2019, Penn State hosted the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games June 2-4.
More than 2,000 athletes from across the state have arrived at Penn State to compete for medals in 21 different Olympic sports, including tennis, softball and basketball.
SOPA previously held its last two Summer Games virtually due to the pandemic.
The organization’s mission is “to provide year-round athletic training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with developmental disabilities,” according to SOPA’s website.
SOPA athletic staff member Stephanie Taylor said she got involved with the organization when she was looking to move back to Pennsylvania and seek a role that would “be a good fit” with her interests and abilities.
“It’s a big team effort to put on a big event like this,” Taylor said. “So teamwork is crucial. Our volunteers are an essential asset that we need to ensure the smooth running of the event.
Thomas Morelli said volunteering for the Summer Games was an “impulse thing” for him since he didn’t know the event was happening beforehand.
Morelli (Junior-English and Spanish) said that of all the experiences he’s had with games, he’s enjoyed “the smiles on people’s faces” the most.
Chad Misner, an 8-year-old tennis player from York County, Pennsylvania, cited several reasons why he loves tennis and the games.
“[I like] Good weather. I love my teammate Ryan; I love my dad, my mom and my whole family,” Misner said, “and especially my grandpa who is in heaven right now watching me.”
Misner has competed in singles and doubles tennis matches and plans to participate in Special Olympics in the future by competing in golf, bowling and tennis.
Her coach, Debra Gable, a native of Dallastown, Pennsylvania, said she has been coaching the Special Olympics for a decade.
“We have a local tennis club that donates four courts to us,” Gable said. “We have about thirty athletes [who] come every Friday. We practice indoors every week [from] early January to June.
According to the SOPA website, athletes and their families can train and compete for free.
Celine Heffron-Pero, a track athlete from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, said her preparation for the games involved hitting the gym, practicing running and being active.
Heffron-Pero said he competed in multiple sports for 8 years, his favorite being track.
She said her favorite part of the sport is the pentathlon, which includes five events: the high jump, long jump, shot put, 100-meter race and a relay race.
“It was fun to be at Penn State after three years, [after] not being here because of the pandemic [and] get back into sports and be active,” Heffron-Pero said.
Lily Magliente, a track and field coach from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, said she got involved with Special Olympics by going to “Night to Shine,” a ball for mentally challenged people ages 14 and up. more, organized by the Tim Tebow Foundation. .
There Magliente met coach Scott Otterbein, who coaches long-distance running and walking as well as athletics.
“I had so much fun with them that I wanted to do more,” Magliente said.
Magliente said she’s been running all her life and participating in it in a different way is “extremely exciting” for her.
“I love seeing everyone go out and enjoy the sport that I’ve always been a part of,” Magliente said. “If you ever want to be a part of Special Olympics, whether you want to be an athlete or a coach, I highly recommend it.”