Special Olympics Michigan Prepares for Opening Ceremony

Thousands of athletes from all over Michigan are taking their marks and running for the gold at the Special Olympics Summer Games.

The 2017 games kick off Thursday night at Central Michigan University.

More than 2,900 athletes will compete, the highest turnout in years.

The Special Olympics bring athletes of all ages, no matter the disability, onto the same field.

Now more athletes are competing in Special Olympics Michigan than they have in years past, with 2,900 gamers in total. The fun kicked off on Thursday night as the parade line waited for the green light to start marching into the stadium.

Leading up to this moment, kids with and without disabilities teamed up to compete in unified sports. Andy Doupe, a Special Education teacher coaching two athletes, said that unity is what makes the games great.

"It’s just a great atmosphere,” Doupe said. “It’s a great event, bringing students with and without disabilities together. Just an unbelievable program."

Around 300 athletes kicked off the Special Olympics at CMU. They shed all differences and came together on the track and bocce fields.

Director of the Unified Sports Initiative, Dan Ekonen, said their program trains individuals to work as a team.

"Our Unified Sports Program focuses on people with and without intellectual disabilities,” he said. “They are on teams together, they practice together, they train together to get here, and now they are competing as a unified team."

Unified Athlete Shelby Gill, from Brighton, said the experience is one that has to be enjoyed in the moment.

"It’s so in the moment,” she said. “You have to be in the moment because if you take it out of picture, it goes by too fast and you just gotta enjoy it."

Gill’s teammate, Liam Kennedy, from Brighton, said his favorite part about the games is “all of it."

Gill and Kennedy were one of 100 teams present on Thursday.

"Seeing all of these other people make a difference doing the same thing, and being out here just as we are for these kids and just having fun with them…it’s just amazing to see," Gill said.

Their coach, Doupe, said participating in Special Olympics Michigan has changed Brighton Area Schools.

"We’ve noticed a huge difference, school-wide, too,” he said. “Just more acceptance of our students with disabilities, not only with our unified team, but everybody in the schools."

Ekonan said these students are making a difference together—putting all disabilities aside.

"These students aren’t just doing this today, they aren’t just doing this in practice, they are doing this year-round,” he said. “It’s a movement for them, and it’s really a dream and a vision to create inclusion throughout their school, throughout their community."

When asked how much fun Kennedy was having with Special Olympic Michigan, he said “a lot!” 

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