CANTON The Olympic theme song played as about 175 athletes from across Northern New York marched out of the SUNY Canton Roos tent and onto the track at SUNY Cantons Roos House athletic center.
The north countrys annual Special Olympics Summer Games started at 10 a.m. Saturday, as disabled athletes walked around the track waving banners or signs representing their towns.
The day consisted of 17 track and field and basketball events, including a javelin throw that organizers added this year.
Area coordinator Elizabeth M. Demo said the event was bigger this year, with a record 25 athletes competing in basketball.
The opening ceremony began with the singing of the national anthem, the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer and an awards presentation.
Soloman Freeman, Tupper Lake, won an award for male athlete of the year for participating in the Special Olympics four years in team sports, while Linda Quackenbush, Malone, won the female athlete of the year award for participating in all seasons of sports for 15 years.
Three Team USA Winter Olympians from Northern New York joined in the ceremony, including Erin M. Hamlin, who made history three months ago at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when she brought home the first ever American medal in singles luge. She won a bronze medal at the Sanki Sliding Center on Feb. 11, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Ms. Hamlin, of Remsen, addressed the athletes before the games began to encourage them to stay active, healthy and competitive.
Im excited to see you guys perform today, she said. Good luck, everybody.
Christopher G. Mazdzer, Sochi Team USA luge, and Annelies O. Cook, Sochi Team USA biathalon, are both from Saranac Lake. Together they declared the Special Olympics North Country Region Summer Games officially open.
Weve never really had honored guests like this before, Ms. Demo said.
The three Olympians stayed for the games to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
Im from Northern New York, so its great to be able to come here and to inspire these athletes, Ms. Hamlin said.
For the first time this year, SUNY Canton athletes paired up with the Special Olympians to make sure they made it to all the events on their schedule and to help and encourage them throughout the day.
I think we get more out of it than the Special Olympians do, SUNY Canton Athletic Director Randy B. Sieminski said.
Nearly 300 student athletes from 14 different teams attended to help out and cheer on the Special Olympians.
Its one of the best days of the year for us. They remind us how special it is to compete and enjoy playing sports.