Opening ceremony kicks off Special Olympics Summer Games

bmilazzo@centredaily.comJune 5, 2014 

— Tanya Roberts’ face said it all.

The 20-year-old State College resident had a grin from ear to ear Thursday night as she walked down Curtin Road to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park with fellow Special Olympians.

More than 2,000 athletes were part of the parade and opening ceremonies for the “High Five for 45” 45th annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games.

The event lasts until Saturday at Penn State and other venues in Centre County.

Roberts and fellow Centre County swimmer Brittany Thayer waved to fans like Janette Bevan, who drove from Philipsburg to support athletes she didn’t even know.

Bevan said that her daughter, Caroline, was part of the Special Olympics in the 1980s, but no longer participates. Now, Janette Bevan attends the games in her daughter’s honor.

“It brings me back to some really wonderful memories and what these events mean for those participating,” Bevan said.

She added that it pulls on her heartstrings when athletes like Roberts and Thayer go out of their way to give smiles, high fives and thumbs up to fans.

But Roberts is just having fun.

“It’s all about having fun; I’m always having fun,” Roberts said. “It is a lot of fun and (you) meet a lot of fun people.”

A thump in the sidewalk could be felt on Curtin Road and cheers could be heard from downtown during the parade, according to passers-by who asked what all the commotion was about.

The State College Area High School marching band led athletes to the ballpark.

Seventy-one Centre County athletes — clad in light blue, tie-dye T-shirts — were the third county group to march.

Former Centre County athlete Greg Focht was just one in a handful of people to carry the Olympic torch.

Focht, who other athletes and volunteers called “an all-star,” won’t be participating in the games this year, due to an injury.

Focht competed in the games for nearly 40 years, earning more than 100 medals in bocce, bowling and golf, and participating in the Special Olympics World Games in Greece in 2011, he said.

Opening ceremonies began with remarks by Kellie Goodman Shaffer, executive director at Bedford County Chamber of Commerce, and ended with the lighting of the Olympic torch carried by participants of the third annual “Be a Fan” torch run.

Members of Penn State athletics were present as Special Olympians got autographs from the Nittany Lions.

For hockey goaltender P.J. Musico, the event hits home.

“I have a brother with autism, so I’ve been around this my whole life,” he said.

Teammates Casey Bailey and Zach Saar said it’s nice for athletes to give back to athletes.

“It’s incredible just to be here and walk with them, and bring attention to the event and do what you can to help out,” Bailey said.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Saar added.

Preliminary events began Thursday afternoon, while a bulk of the events will continue Friday and Saturday.

The events are aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, equestrian sports, golf, gymnastics, softball and tennis.

But for most of the athletes, it’s less about the competition and more about the camaraderie.

“We really like to support each other,” Thayer, 25, said.

This is her first year competing in swimming, but she said teammates like Roberts are giving her a lot of encouragement.

“I’ve been in these since grade school, but not so much swimming,” Thayer said. “I’ve just been getting some tips and everyone’s been really friendly.”

Last year, Thayer, of State College, participated in gymnastics and placed first.

“I’m more comfortable in gymnastics, but swimming is nice, too,” Thayer said.

Roberts, on the other hand, has been competing in aquatics since she was 8.

On Thursday, she practiced and competed in preliminary events that will help determine her position Friday at McCoy Natatorium from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I’m really fast and I think I can help some people who aren’t used to swimming,” Roberts said. “I think I’ll do real good, too.”

She’ll compete in a total of four aquatics events — the first of which was held on Thursday afternoon; she placed third in the 50-meter freestyle.

“It’s just so much fun and so exciting,” Roberts said.

The three-day event includes more than 2,000 athletes, 750 coaches and 2,500 volunteers from around the commonwealth, said spokeswoman Nicole Jones.

Carolyn Bechtel and Trevor Chester, of Centre County, will also be competing in the 2014 Special Olympics USA games in New Jersey from June 14 to 21. They will both compete in bowling.

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