The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 9, 2014

We welcome Special Olympians | Opening ceremonies tonight in Central Park

JOHNSTOWN — Their skates have been sharpened. Their skis have been waxed and tuned. They are ready to compete for bronze, silver and gold medals.

They are Olympians in every sense of the word. And they are special – to themselves, their families, their coaches and to the throng of volunteers who will be arriving in the region for the 2014 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games.

“The athletes are fired up and ready to go,” Mike Ermer, Special Olympics’ associate competition director for the western region, told our Kelly Urban. “They love to compete and win, but it’s more about the camaraderie.”

The games will feature alpine skiing at Hidden Valley, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Blue Knob, figure skating at the War Memorial and speed skating at Planet Ice.

Recent snowstorms have guaranteed that conditions will be excellent for the alpine contests. And we’re sure that workers will have the ice at local rinks as smooth as glass.

This year, about 300 competitors from 20 counties, plus athletes from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Oklahoma, will vie for honors. But the scope of the games could balloon in size.

“In the four years that I’ve been in this position, I’ve seen the games grow,” Ermer said. “There are more programs from out of state contacting me wanting to participate.”

The Winter Games have been a part of the Greater Johnstown region for the past 12 years, and the participants have captured our hearts with their can-do attitudes and enthusiasm and wowed us with their energy and athleticism.

The highly entertaining and exciting event also has been a boon to the local economy. Hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations are some of the businesses that will benefit from the popular games.

Opening ceremonies will take place at 6:30 this evening at Central Park in downtown Johnstown and will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic Torch.

Competitions will be held Monday and Tuesday. A Victory Dance will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Richland High School.

“The athletes look forward to the dance because it’s a chance to get together and hang out with fellow athletes and party,” Ermer said.

Awards and closing ceremonies will be held Tuesday at each venue.

We welcome the athletes, coaches, families, volunteers and all others associated with Special Olympics Pennsylvania to Johnstown and hope their stay is enjoyable.

And we wish Special Olympics much success as it enters its 38th year, and in the future, as it helps intellectually or developmentally disabled individuals become all they can be.

So, let the games begin.

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