MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Special Olympics in Michigan kicked off on Wednesday morning with athletes from around the state filling into the Theunissen Baseball Stadium at Central Michigan University. The competitions, which conclude today, include bowling, horseshoes, gymnastics, power lifting, swimming, volleyball, weightlifting and more.

The State Summer Games, presented by SpartanNash, are one of six annual statewide competitions offered by Special Olympics Michigan. Athletes participating in State Summer Games qualified through local and regional competition and this year marks the 54th State Summer Games, 47 of which have taken place on the campus of Central Michigan University.

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This year’s Summer Games are anticipated to represent the largest event since 2019 with event organizers expecting crowds to return to pre-pandemic levels. With more than 2,000 athletes and Unified Partners expected for the event, the games are also expected to draw in thousands more family members, coaches, friends and fans during the three-day event. Over 2,000 volunteers help make the event a success.

Kayla Cornell, a Grand Rapids-based Special Olympics Michigan Athlete Leader, is overjoyed to be competing this year. She said, “I am excited for a full stadium as we light the torch to start Summer Games. I haven’t been able to compete in powerlifting at the state level for a few years, it’s going to be great to be back in the gym at CMU again.”

Tim Hileman, President & CEO of Special Olympics Michigan, said about the event, “The energy and enthusiasm at our State Summer Games is unmatched. We offer three days of quality sports competition. We are excited to welcome athletes, coaches, and volunteers from all over the state. This showcase of community is an example of the power behind our movement – creating a more inclusive world for all.”

Wednesday kicked off the Summer Games with Unified competition, celebrating the ability of sport to bring athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team, while Thursday and Friday featured traditional sports competition.

Special Olympics Michigan has been part of the Special Olympics movement since its start in 1968. The first International Summer Special Olympics Games took place at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1968 where Michigan had a delegation. In 1969, Michigan’s first State Summer Games took place at West Michigan University in Kalamazoo. In 1972, Special Olympics Michigan officially became incorporated and moved their headquarters from Adrian to Mount Pleasant and to the campus of Central Michigan University – with the college hosting the fourth International Summer Special Olympics Games in Mount Pleasant.

The mission of Special Olympics Michigan is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Athletes develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy while participating in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship among their families, Special Olympics athletes and the community. The athletes achieve their dreams with the support of caring volunteers, coaches, family members and staff. Donations from Michigan citizens and businesses provide funding for the program. Special Olympics Michigan serves 23,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the state.

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In addition to the sporting events, this year’s Summer Games included delegation meals; the Moose Riders; a motorcycle procession; a Kiwanis Carnival; Health Booths offering free vision, heating, dental and health screenings; souvenir booths; celebrity autographs; and other special events.

The Flame of Hope, symbolizing the official start of Summer Games, was carried by the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) and was lit on Thursday evening – the culmination of Opening Ceremony at Kelly/Shorts Stadium on the CMU campus.

Also during the opening ceremony, an athlete read a reception of the athlete’s oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”