Special Olympics celebrates 50th year with big anniversary games at URI

R.I. summer games held at University since 1972

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Thorr Bjorn
Thorr Bjorn, director of athletics, addressing the crowd at the commencement of the 2017 Rhode Island Special Olympics Summer Games. URI photo by Mike Salerno.

KINGSTON, R.I.- May 25, 2018 – For 32 consecutive years, Christopher Gorman has participated in the Rhode Island Special Olympics Summer Games.

But this will be an even bigger year, as Gorman is set to compete in games that mark the 50th Anniversary of the Rhode Island Special Olympics. The event, which has been held at URI for 46 years, will run from June 1 through 3 on the Kingston campus.

Opening ceremonies at URI’s Ryan Center begin June 1 at 5:30 p.m. and include headliner Billy Gilman, who will perform at 8 p.m. The ceremonies feature the parade of athletes, the entrance of the Torch Run Final Leg with the Flame of Hope and the lighting of the Special Olympics Cauldron. Tickets for the opening ceremonies are $33.

Athletes form The Cove Center
Athletes form The Cove Center, Inc. process into the 2017 Rhode Island Special Olympics Summer Games at URI. URI photo by Mike Salerno.

“For more than four decades, we have been proud to support an organization that has been at the forefront of inclusion and opportunity for all of its participants. These are values central to the University’s mission,” said URI President David M Dooley. “I offer a warm welcome to all athletes, families and friends, and we extend our heartfelt congratulations to Special Olympics Rhode Island on its golden anniversary.

“I especially want to thank our Conferences and Special Program Development Office and Department of Facilities Services, and all of the volunteers who make this signature event possible every year, including our student-athletes, students in our health disciplines, and personnel from our Department of Public Safety. Good luck to all of the athletes and enjoy your stay on our beautiful campus.”

After weeks of training and competing at area competitions, more than 1,500 athletes from all over Rhode Island will compete against their peers in bowling, cycling, training programs, powerlifting, swimming, unified soccer and many more events.

Gorman started competing when he was 8 years old in the softball throw and the 50-meter dash. Eventually, he progressed through other track and field events, and this year he will compete in bowling. The North Kingstown resident’s mother, Gloria, recalls him spending the nights during the games in one of URI’s residence halls when he was younger. Here, athletes met and got acquainted outside the competition without the presence of their parents. Upon arrival, Gloria noted the small gifts athletes had waiting for them, ranging from a new visor to a pair of sunglasses.

As for URI’s prominent role in the games, Gloria said she is grateful for its improving and expanding facilities and the opportunities they provide the athletes.

“URI is constantly improving,” Gloria said. “When we first started coming here for the games, the athletes would participate in track and field events outside even if it was raining. Through the addition of a state-of-the-art track (at Mackal Field House), athletes can compete comfortably and safely.”

She also likes the community feel of the event. “What’s wonderful about the Special Olympics of Rhode Island is the event’s ability to bring people together,” explained Gloria. “Larger states have competitions by region or area. Since Rhode Island is so small, you are guaranteed to see a friend or familiar face upon arriving at the Kingston campus for the state games.

Many University departments also look forward to their involvement in the Games, especially the Department of Athletics and its student-athletes.

“Our student-athletes get so much back from their involvement with the Special Olympians. They see the same level of passion with the people participating in the games that they have for themselves and their teammates as they compete at the Division 1 collegiate level,” said Thorr Bjorn, director of athletics. “The URI student-athletes are always full of gratitude for having the opportunity to work with so many inspiring athletes.”

Joseph Pittle, director of URI Conferences and Special Program Development since 1988, has enjoyed working with his colleagues at URI to host one of the state’s greatest and most celebrated public events. Months of planning and preparation with games’ organizers and his colleagues at URI result in what Pittle calls his most satisfying professional experience. “Watching the athletes compete and demonstrate respect and good sportsmanship is one of the most rewarding aspects of life. Welcome back and congratulations on celebrating 50 years of Special Olympics,” said Pittle.

The URI Police Department is another long-term supporter of the Special Olympics Summer Games. From participating in the Torch Run, which starts at the Statehouse and finishes on the Kingston campus the night of the opening ceremonies, to handing out medals and participating in Polar Plunges, the department is a major backer of the event.

“I am very pleased that the University hosts the Special Olympics Summer Games,” said Stephen Baker, chief of the URI Police Department and director of Public Safety. “The games are inspiring to the athletes and to all who attend. I personally find the games to be an enjoyable experience, and I would recommend that everyone come and cheer on these special athletes.”

Baker says that with the help of Joe Mulcahey, coordinator of Fire and Life Safety, public safety personnel are able to ensure that the event is executed as planned, especially the fireworks celebration.

The mission of Special Olympics Rhode Island is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.