Families, volunteers and spectators will be cheering on men and women, boys and girls – all Special Olympics athletes – as they compete in the largest Area event of the year for Special Olympics Illinois East Central/ Area 9.
The annual Spring Games takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 28, at Eastern Illinois University O’Brien Stadium in Charleston. The public is invited to watch the competition and experience the joy of achievement by Special Olympics athletes. East Central/Area 9 is composed of Coles, Clay, Clark, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Jasper, Lawrence, Richland and Shelby counties.
At the East Central/Area 9 Spring Games, approximately 510 athletes from 73 teams are expected to compete in athletics (track & field), the most popular of 19 sports offered by Special Olympics Illinois. The event begins at 9 a.m. with an Opening Ceremony. Competition follows immediately and will conclude around 2 p.m. All athletes will march in the parade of athletes and recite the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” The running of the torch with the “Flame of Hope” and the lighting of the cauldron signifies the opening of the games.
Local dignitaries and law enforcement officers will create the VIP tunnel for the athletes’ parade and introduction of Area 9 Special Olympics teams prior to the Knights of Columbus Assembly #223 Color Guard presentation. Following the singing of the National Anthem by CCAR Industries’, Kari Kinnett, the Interim Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Judy Drake of Eastern, will welcome the athletes, volunteers, families, and fans.
Athletes will compete in the 50-, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- & 1,500-meter runs; standing and running long jumps; shot put; minijavelin; tennis and softball throw; high jump; 400- and 800-meter wheelchair competitions and assisted races, as well as the pentathlon. Athletes compete in divisions by gender and ability levels.
Sponsors for the Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9 Spring Games are: Eastern Illinois University, Illinois Law Enforcement Officers, Knights of Columbus, Blue Shield of Illinois, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Consolidated Communications, County Market, Walgreens, Rural King Supply, Charleston Fire and Rescue Services and Marsha’s Country Catering.
To compete in the Special Olympics Illinois Heartland/Area 6 Spring Games, athletes must train for eight weeks. Athletes who win a gold medal at these Area games qualify to compete in the Special Olympics Illinois State Summer Games to be held June 9-11 on the campuses of Illinois State University in Normal and Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. More than 4,000 athletes from around the state are expected to compete in Summer Games.
Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9 Director, Vanessa Duncan, reported feeling excited and grateful for the volunteer support that ensures the success of the Games. “Eastern Illinois University, it’s faculty, and the student volunteers are the backbone of this track and field meet for the Special Olympics athletes. They dedicate their time and efforts to fulfill hundreds of volunteer jobs and responsibilities. That, in itself, is a testament to the commitment of Special Olympics volunteers in Area 9”.
Local law enforcement agencies, including the Mattoon, Charleston, and Effingham Police Departments, as well as the Coles and Douglas County Sheriffs’ Departments, and Illinois State Police, also provide considerable support during the Spring Games by congratulating and awarding the athletes following the events.