The opening ceremonies of the 2006 Special Olympics will be conducted the first weekend in June in the ravine at Eastern Kentucky University for the first time since the event made Richmond its home 12 years ago.

“We’re moving the opening ceremony from Roy Kidd Stadium because we wanted to bring everybody closer together,” said Mark Buerger, Special Olympics Kentucky communications director. “This also will create a much closer environment for the athletes.”

EKU has been a good fit for the Special Olympics because of the support it has received from the university community and the great facilities, Buerger said.

“Every department Special Olympics deals with on campus, from the physical plant to housing to food service, always has been extremely accommodating, and they have made it very easy for us to come back there year after year,” Buerger said. “Prior to the current 12-year-run we’ve enjoyed at EKU, this event traveled from place to place each year, but it really has found a home.”

Around 1,027 athletes have registered and approximately 1,200 are expected, Buerger said. Twenty-nine of 2006’s registered athletes are from Richmond, he said.

The Special Olympics are for intellectually challenged athletes who have qualified in a regional tournament for their sport. They will compete in a variety of areas including swimming, gymnastics, track and field, powerlifting and soccer.

“The Summer Games are our biggest competition of the year, both in the number of competitors and the scope of the event,” Buerger said. “The entire weekend is set up as a celebration of our athletes and their accomplishments.”

When athletes and spectators are not participating in the athletic events, the Olympic Town area, an interactive festival experience, can provide activities, food and prizes. Olympic Town features the Healthy Athletes Wellness Village, which provides free dental screenings, pediatric and physical therapy evaluations, vision screenings and glasses, if needed.

Other activities included in the weekend’s events will be inflatable games, a Lexington Legends booth and athletes will have the opportunity to have their picture taken and framed.

Volunteers are still needed to help with concessions and games, said Mary Dee Boemker, who also is helping coordinate the event. Volunteers would need to work Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Another annual feature to the Special Olympics is the Flame of Hope run. The run will begin at Arlington Country Club, travel downtown and end at the steps of City Hall. The run is made by about 100 Kentucky police officers and is approximately 2.8 miles long.

The Special Olympics was created to give intellectually challenged children a sense of accomplishment and pride, Buerger said.

“It’s just a reminder that they can do anything they put their minds to,” he said. “It’s a great step toward understanding the population we work with. It also really enriches the lives of the athletes and the people who work with them.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should call Boemker at 1-800-633-7403 or e-mail her at mdboemker@soky.org.



Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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