The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 20, 2013

Skills and thrills: Johnstown set to host Winter Games

JOHNSTOWN — It’s almost game time.

An estimated 350 athletes eager to show off their skills, along with 150 coaches, will be coming to the region to take part in the 2013 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games.

The statewide competition is returning to the Johnstown area for the 12th consecutive year.

Opening ceremonies are set for 6:30 p.m., Feb. 10 at Central Park in downtown Johnstown.

Athletes will gather at the Holiday Inn-Downtown and proceed to the park to participate in the festivities. The ceremony will feature an array of speakers and performances and will culminate with the lighting of the Olympic Torch.

Competition will begin Feb. 11 and continue through Feb. 12.

There will be alpine skiing at Hidden Valley Four Seasons Resort, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Blue Knob Four Seasons Resort, figure skating at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena and speed skating at Planet Ice in Richland Township.

“The athletes come out and they want to compete and take home a gold medal, but the main goal is for them to do the best they can,” said Mike Ermer, SOPA’s associate competition director for the western region.

This year athletes from 22 counties along with those from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia will participate.

“It’s almost become more of a region games now,” Ermer said.

A highlight of the games is the Victory Dance that will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Richland High School.

“The athletes love the dance because they are able to unwind and hang out with their friends and fellow athletes, so it’s really something enjoyable for everyone,” Ermer said.

Awards and closing ceremonies will be held Feb. 12 at each venue.

The backbone of the games are the volunteers, and more than 1,000 participated last year serving in various capacities including officials, athlete escorts, award presenters and administrative support services.

Ermer said this year’s open spots filled up in no time, in fact, they had to turn people away.

“For the volunteers, it’s a unique experience to get out and see the athletes who are having so much fun and competing hard,” he said. “Many keep coming back each year because it’s infectious to be around these athletes and they want to be a part of that.”

The winter games are now in their 37th year, and Ermer said they are part of the overall mission of offering year-round Olympic type sports.

“It keeps athletes in the mind frame to stay conditioned mentally and physically to compete,” he said.


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