The cauldron has been lit.
And for the 13th straight time, the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Winter Games are getting underway in the Johnstown area.
Despite a heavy snowstorm just hours earlier, a crowd of nearly 200 – many of them athletes – gathered for Sunday night’s opening ceremonies at Johnstown’s Central Park, beginning with a march down Main Street and ending with Special Olympics Pennsylvania board member Jim Wenner declaring the games underway.
“Are you ready to have some fun?” Wenner asked the cheering crowd.
“Be brave, have fun and compete hard,” added Leslie Corbett, a special speed skating assistant for this year’s games who competed in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
The opening ceremonies were a big moment for Dean Powell, 13, of York County.
Standing alongside fellow athletes from across the state, he said he was a “little nervous” considering these will be his first Winter Games.
“These are some of the state’s best,” he said.
“I’m neverous but I’m really excited, too,” he added.
More than 340 athletes from 26 counties in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia are expected to take part in this week’s games, competing in alpine skiing, figure skating and dozens of other sports.
About 12 counties were represented at Sunday night’s opening ceremonies. The snowstorm was to blame for the less-than-expected turnout, Special Olympics Pennsylvania Communications Director Nicole Jones said, noting they advised many teams from outside the region to stay put until conditions improved.
“We wanted to see snow tonight – it’s beautiful. But we have to be safe, too,” Jones said.
David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him at www.