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Athletes ready to carry torch for Special Olympics winter games

Tribune-Democrat - 2/5/2019

Feb. 04--The games are about to begin.

More than 300 athletes are gearing up to show off their skills, along with 135 coaches, who will be coming to the region to take part in the 2019 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games.

The opening ceremonies will begin at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Festival Plazaat Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Somerset County.

The opening will include speakers, performances to motivate and entertain the athletes and fireworks. The games will commence with the official lighting of the Olympic torch.

Competition will begin Feb. 11 and continue through Feb. 12.

There will be alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. In addition, a few athletes will participate in a snowboarding demonstration, which is an emerging winter sport for SOPA.

This year, athletes from more than 20 counties, along with those from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, will be participating.

Mike Ermer, SOPA's competition director for the western region, said they are thrilled to be able to continue their partnership with Seven Springs.

"The Winter Games committee has been working diligently to prepare for our 42nd annual event and the resort is the perfect venue to give our athletes an opportunity to qualify for the 2021 World Winter Games in Sweden," he said. "Working with the resort is amazing and they really bend over backward to accommodate everything that we need. They come up with ideas that are out of this world."

In addition, the Winter Games will host the Healthy Habits program, where interactive education stations will help build awareness of how healthy habits affect sport performance and every day life. Health and fitness coordinators will be on site to discuss nutrition and healthy food options.

A highlight of the games is the Victory Dance at 7 p.m.Feb. 11 in Seven Spring's Exhibit Hall.

The gathering brings athletes, coaches and organizers together for an evening of celebration and camaraderie.

"The dance is an opportunity for athletes from across the state to get together to cut loose and relax and enjoy the spirit of the competition," Ermer said.

"The dance is a highlight at all of our state events and is something the athletes look forward to."

Awards and closing ceremonies will be held at each venue on Feb. 12.

The backbone of the games are the volunteers, and more than 1,200 people are expected to serve in various capacities, including as officials, athlete escorts, award presenters and administrative providers.

Ermer said spots are pretty much filled, and the Winter Games are looking good in terms of help.

"Volunteers are vital; we serve 20,000 athletes from across the state and there are 40 full-time staff members at the organization, so to put on an event of this magnitude, we wouldn't be able to do it without our volunteers," he said. "They really are the lifeblood of the events. We are an athlete focused organization but we're volunteer driven."

The Winter Games, now in its 42nd year, are an integral part of SOPA's mission of providing year-round training and competition in 21 Olympic-type sports to more than 20,000 children and adults with intellectual or related developmental disabilities, according to the organization.

"We want the athletes to have the opportunity to compete and be included and show how much they've worked to improve their skills," Ermer said.

"They are driven and they want to win, but most of all they want to do their best."

For a complete schedule of events, visit

Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. She can be reached at (814) 532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.


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