PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After four years of a pandemic lockdown and a cancellation due to bad weather, the Special Olympics surged back Friday with a large turnout of athletes, volunteers and supporters.
The parade of athletes was led by the Aroostook County Law Enforcement Honor Guard at 9 a.m. at the Gehrig Johnson Athletic Complex at the Presque Isle Middle School before the opening ceremony at 9:15 a.m.
Approximately 155 athletes from 18 different schools and agencies turned out for the 43rd Special Olympic games to compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter run, the standing long jump, and the softball toss.
Guardian of the Flame was Marcus Pellegrini from Northern Aroostook Alternatives with Commander Peter Johnson from the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office assisting in the carrying of the Special Olympic Torch.
“There’s more involvement from the community with the National Honors Society, State Police, all those, where we used to only have (volunteers from) Loring Air Force Base,” said Alice Malloch, regional coordinator for Aroostook County.
George Ferland sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after which Steve Richard, area director of Aroostook Special Olympics, and Malloch recited the oath to begin the Special Olympics: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Malloch received an award for her 25 years of service to the Special Olympics, along with Richard for his 40 years of service. Malloch hopes there will be more volunteers and athletes participating in next year’s Special Olympics.
The National Honors Societies from across Aroostook County volunteered for this year’s Special Olympics. Members from the State Troopers, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, MMG Insurance, Kiwanis Club and the Maine Forest Service also volunteered.
“The middle school students came out with banners and cheered the athletes on, which is absolutely wonderful and we have a lot of other volunteers who just came to watch the games,” Richard said.
The athletes were separated into groups based on age and were represented by the colored flags: Youths were ages 5 to 11 years-old with a yellow flag; Juniors were ages 12 to 15 years old with a pink flag; seniors were ages 16 to 21 years old with a blue flag; sub-masters were ages 22 to 29 years old with a white flag; and masters were ages 30 and above with a green flag.
Medals of gold, silver and bronze were given out for the softball throw with the other events like the standing long jump and meter runs getting different colored ribbons awarded between first and sixth places.
Someone from a different organization or school is chosen to be the Special Olympic Torch bearer for the lighting of the torch.
“We try to run this how any other track meet would be run. We might have what we call more color than most track meets but we want to really brighten up the field,” Richard said.