DUBOIS â€” "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
The oath of the Special Olympics remained its centerpiece as the event returned to the local area for its 34th year on Wednesday at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois, where it was met by sunshine, blue skies and warm weather.
The 34th annual DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics Track and Field Day, described by Master of Ceremonies Frank Hetrick as being the organization's largest area gathering, this year attracted an estimated 165 athletes, not counting families, friends, volunteers and those who came to participate in some of the non-competitive activities.
Athletes, representing a wide range of ages from 8 years old and up, came from the Punxsutawney, Brookville, Brockway and DuBois area school districts, Fayette Resources, New Story and the Central PA Autism Academy to compete in their chosen events.
The day began with the annual Parade of Athletes, where participants marched down the stadium's track, waving handmade banners representing their schools.
The event is hosted at three area schools â€” DuBois, Punxsutawney and Brookville â€” with the duty falling to DuBois this year. As such, DuBois Area School District Superintendent Tim Deluccia delivered welcoming remarks.
"On behalf of the board of directors, students, staff and administration, I welcome all our eager participants and guests to the DuBois Area School District," he said.
He went on to explain that the Olympic rings are symbolic on a number of levels. The five multicolored rings, he said, stand for the five continents from which athletes travel to take place in the international sporting competition. That the rings interlock is likewise symbolic of the fact that the games are intended for all nations to be united in friendly competition.
Deluccia said that what the students were doing on Wednesday was in the same spirit.
"Today, at Mansell Stadium," he sad, "our athletes come together from surrounding school districts, displaying their banners in the opening ceremony, to compete in a variety of exciting events in unity, as one. This day is about spirit, pride, determination, family, friendship and
fun. Today, everyone is a winner."
Penny Coup, the senior director of local programs for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, was also on hand to deliver a few words,
particularly thanking the volunteers at the event for their donation of time and support for the athletes.
"Volunteers are the backbone of Special Olympics," Coup said. "Without them, we couldn't have events like this."
Coup also had another presentation to make. She said that Stacey Truman, county manager for Special Olympics, and her team must go through a review every year in order to provide and operate such events for the community. For their success in this regard, Coup presented Truman with an accreditation certificate and thanked them for all the work they do in bringing Special Olympics to the local area.
Truman, in turn, had her own thank-yous to make. A theme of this year's Special Olympics was "FRANK-ly, we LOVE Special Olympics," designed to honor Hetrick, who is retiring.
"He's going to be greatly missed," Truman said, presenting him with a certificate of appreciation.
Hetrick thanked Truman for her work on the organizational end of the Special Olympics and also extended some words of praise to all the teachers who helped make the event a reality, despite the fact that it's a busy time of the academic year.
"We are all thankful for one another, our friends, our family, our athletes, our teachers and our administrators," Hetrick said.
The opening ceremonies also featured a performance of the national anthem â€” sung and signed â€” by Mackenzie Bart of Brockway, while Brockway athlete Zachary Cable led the pledge of allegiance, which was signed by students in the DuBois High School Life Skills and Multi-Disabled
Pastor Mark Montgomery of the First Baptist Church in DuBois delivered the invocation. DuBois athletes Cole Norris, Julianne Concel and Matthew Coulter recited the Special Olympics oath, and Punxsutawney athletes Seth Brock and Andrew Stahlman completed the olympic torch run.
Upon the end of the ceremony, athletes were turned loose to participate in their chosen events. Each was permitted to select as many as three prior to the event. For the last few months, all of the athletes have been training for their chosen competitions.
They were divided up into heats based on ages and skill levels and allowed to show what they could do in events including the softball throw, the running long jump, the standing long jump, the 25-meter developmental, the 50-meter dash, the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.
In between events, the Olympic Village was open to participants to participate in games, activities and arts and crafts in their downtime.
DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics conducts training in various sports throughout the year.
Its next project is soccer training, which kicks off in August. Interested individuals can watch for information in local media sources or seek it out themselves by calling 849-2562 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.