Nearly 2,000 Special Olympics Oregon athletes stormed onto the field at Reser Stadium on Saturday night.
Hundreds of fans applauded from the stands as the athletes walked in as teams representing their home regions. Some danced to upbeat music playing in the stadium. Others blew soap bubbles. All were escorted onto the field by individual members of the Oregon State University football team.
The applause was the loudest for the last to take their seats on the field: the home team, the 123 athletes from Benton County.
It’s the first year that Special Olympics Oregon’s Summer State Games have taken place in Corvallis. They began Saturday with a golf classic at Trysting Tree Golf Club. Competitions in bocce, golf, softball and track and field continue Sunday.
“This weekend’s competitions are the culmination of many months, days and hours of hard work and training by our athletes,” said emcee and Special Olympics Oregon Board of Directors member Kerry Tymchuk. “Not all may win the gold, but all win because of the experience.”
Washington County Special Olympics athlete Colt Allen took the stage to welcome the stars of the ceremony.
“This is the moment our athletes have been waiting for,” he said. “To enter the stadium representing their local programs from across the state.”
The stadium’s jumbo tron displayed a video of OSU athletes welcoming the Special Olympics athletes to Corvallis.
“From one athlete to another, we are rooting for you and cheering you on,” the athletes said in the video. “Beaver Nation is behind you.”
Benton County Special Olympics athlete Shawn Hinz then kicked off the ceremonies by singing the national anthem.
Margie Hunt, the CEO of Special Olympics Oregon, told the crowd she’d been in Reser Stadium many times before cheering for the Beavers to win.
“When you’re here, when the Special Olympics are here, there are no losers,” she told the athletes. “You all are winners.”
“You are athletes and don’t ever let anybody tell you you’re not,” she added.
Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber thanked Special Olympics Oregon for bringing the summer games to the city.
“It is a wonderful thing you add to Corvallis by being here,” he said.
OSU President Ed Ray said he hopes the summer games will return to Corvallis next year.
“You honor us by coming here to compete,” Ray said. “You inspire us with your efforts and with your amazing accomplishments.”
Tymchuk announced the winners of several awards. Det. Jan Childers of Port of Portland Police Department won the Ken Davis Unsung Hero Award. Special Olympics and the law enforcement community have a longstanding relationship as police officers, sheriff deputies and correction officers each year raise awareness and funds for the organization. They also participate each year in the Law Enforcement Torch Run by carrying the Flame of Hope throughout the state.
Washington County Special Olympics coach Chuck Sturgis won the Les Schwab Pride and Performance Award for outstanding volunteer. Sturgis has been volunteering for more than 20 years, coaching basketball, softball, track and field and bocce.
Lincoln County Special Olympics athlete Jordan Allen won the Les Schwab Pride and Performance Award for outstanding athlete. His coaches described him as a gracious player who is humble in defeat and a true role model for all athletes.
Before the athletes departed the stadium for a victory dance on Prothro Field, Corvallis Police Sgt. Joel Goodwin brought the Flame of Hope into the stadium. A beacon of light for the athletes, Goodwin handed the torch to Jacob Green-Haw, an athlete from Yamhill County, the former home of the Special Olympics Oregon Summer State Games. Green-Haw then passed the torch to Benton County athlete Dale Miner, who lit the cauldron.