Almost 1,500 participants ranging in age from 8 to 88 will converge on Orono and the University of Maine campus this weekend for the 41st annual Special Olympics Maine State Summer Games.
The participating athletes will represent nearly 150 teams from Kittery to Presque Isle and will compete in 13 different sports and events over the weekend at the Beckett Family Track and Field Complex, the Mahaney Dome practice facility, the UMaine field house and Alfond Arena.
“This is amazing,” said Mark Capano, Special Olympics Maine’s director of programs, sports and competitions. “It’s the largest competitive sporting event in the state.”
Competition began Thursday with candlepin bowling and unified bowling at the Bangor-Brewer Lanes in Brewer, but the bulk of the action will take place at the UMaine athletic facilities today through Sunday.
Capano, who was a Special Olympics coach from 1980 through 1994, said actual, hands-on planning for this event started three months ago.
“We as a staff begin to get ready for this and get people and things lined up and scheduled in March,” he said. “We have about 600 coaches and another 500 volunteers.”
Today offers a full slate of events, from the second day of bowling to the mile run and some sprints, but also some popular non-sporting events such as the athletes’ supper, the parade of athletes at 6 p.m., and the 7 p.m. opening ceremonies.
“It’s a fun thing, but it’s serious business, especially to the athletes,” Capano said.
Saturday starts off with an athletes’ breakfast at 6:30 and then moves to a full day of track and field events.
“Saturday’s a huge day for us,” said Capano. “It’s the busiest day by far of all them.”
The Olympic Village also opens at 10 a.m. and features such special attractions as games and entertainment, such as the first Special Olympics Idol Contest. The banquet of champions at 6 p.m. kicks off the popular evening session, which is capped by the victory dance at Alfond Arena.
An added bonus for Special Olympians is the Healthy Athlete Program, which is being made available to the athletes for the first time this year.
They can be seen and evaluated with free hearing, dental, and physical therapy screenings. Healthy Smiles is under the direction of Dr. Scott Trowbridge and Maine Dental Arts. Amy Booth of the University of Maine’s audiology clinic is offering the hearing screenings and physical therapist Jen Corbeil heads a group offering the free PT screenings, which evaluate athletes’ ranges of motion, strength and fitness.
The competition and festivities conclude Sunday with a 6:30 a.m. breakfast and the finals of the 100 meter walk (8 a.m.), 1-kilometer walk (9 a.m.) and mile run (9 a.m.). The friendship circle and departure officially close the games in 10 a.m. ceremonies.