Special Olympics Kentucky Global Messenger Dorothy Rennekamp walked confidently to the center of the stage for her first public speaking appearance and asked the assembled crowd “Are you ready to change the game like Mrs. Shriver did for us?” The stage was in the Ravine at Eastern Kentucky University. The crowd was the 1,400 plus athletes, coaches and families at the State Summer Games Opening Ceremonies. They all erupted in applause.
Dorothy kicked off an Opening Ceremonies that for the first time in the program’s history featured athletes and Unified partners exclusively as emcees. Athletes Rennekamp, Hayden Redmon, Morgan Turner, Katie Williams, Tonya Cornett and Ryan Barts were joined by Unified partner Celeste Siqueiros in leading the event. Before 2015 Athlete of the Year Tommy Parson lit the cauldron with the help of the Law Enforcement Torch Run and 2015 Coach of the Year Janet Ballinger opened the Games, the Ceremonies also included SOKY athlete and national singing sensation Marlana VanHoose singing the National Anthem and My Old Kentucky Home, an appearance by the Lauren Mink Band and welcomes from EKU head basketball coach Dan McHale and Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes, as well as Joe Settles, manager of member services for Games Platinum Sponsor Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.
Summer Games activities began earlier on June 3, when the Kentucky Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg returned to the State Capitol for the first time in several years.Governor Matt Bevin was on hand to help kick off the Flame of Hope’s journey from Frankfort to Richmond. There was also a stop at Stewart Home School, before the torch headed to the home of the State Summer Games.
Friday concluded with relay and distance events at the track, as well as some shot put competition and relays at the pool.
Saturday, June 4, saw all 1,400 athletes in competition at Eastern Kentucky University. Competition started as early as 8 am at soccer, bocce, swimming and rhythmic gymnastics venues as well as at the track. This year three of the five competitive venues enjoyed venue sponsorship. AECOM was once again the sponsor for the soccer venue. New Summer Games sponsor Lockheed Martin took over the bocce venue and Golden Corral sponsored the rhythmic gymnastics location.
In addition to their sponsorships, AECOM and Lockheed Martin joined Touchstone Energy in providing venue volunteers for their events.
Saturday wasn’t without challenges. Competition directors and volunteers worked to get all of the competition completed before a predicted storm hit central Kentucky. With the help of many volunteers, coaches and athletes, all but a handful of track races finished before the rains came.
In addition to the competitions, athletes had the opportunity to enjoy Chick-fil-A Olympic Town during the day — dancing, playing games, completing crafts and eating. They also had a chance to party with the famous Chick-fil-A cows. This year, the Kentucky Touchstone Energy Cooperatives hot air balloon also made an appearance in Olympic Town for pictures.
Olympic Town also hosted one of the Games’ most important features — the Healthy Athletes Wellness Village. This year, Healthy Athletes provided more than 300 free screenings at Healthy Hearing, Fun Fitness, Opening Eyes, Fit Feet, Special Smiles and the newest Health Promotions initiative, which helps with nutrition and healthy lifestyles information. FunFitness alone provided 100 physical therapy and flexibility screenings and Opening Eyes helped provide 46 pairs of free glasses and 17 pairs of prescription sports goggles to athletes with the help of the Kentucky Lions Club Eye Foundation.
After competition had ended and Olympic Town had closed, as they always do, the athletes closed the Games at the Victory Dance in Alumni Coliseum before heading home on Sunday to prepare for their next Special Olympics activity.
We were thrilled to once again have Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives signed on as the Platinum Sponsor for the Games. This was Touchstone Energy’s fourth year as the event’s largest supporter.
Other sponsors include: Gold/Olympic Town Sponsor Chick-fil-A, Year-Round Partners Texas Roadhouse and the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Kentucky, our hosts at Eastern Kentucky University; Silver Sponsors AECOM, Richmond Tourism and Southland Dairy; Bronze Sponsors Greentree Forest Products, Lockheed Martin and Golden Corral; and Supporting Sponsors First Gear, and the City of Richmond.
The 2017 State Summer Games will return to Eastern Kentucky University for the 23rd straight year June 2-4. For information about the Games, or about how you or your company can get involved, contact Special Olympics Kentucky President and CEO Trish Mazzoni at 502-695-8222 or [email protected].