(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) – In what has become a spring tradition for Carnegie Mellon University and the Department of Athletics, the Western Spring Sectional competition of the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania took place on campus for the third consecutive year on Saturday, April 14. Nearly 500 athletes competed in basketball, swimming and track and field, with hopes of qualifying for the state competition.
The day began at 9:30 a.m. with opening ceremonies at Gesling Stadium, as representatives from each county marched into the stadium carrying their respective banners. Following remarks by Special Olympics organizers, a ceremonial cauldron was lit by participating athletes to officially open the games.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to welcome the Special Olympics and such incredible athletes to our campus each year,” said Director of Athletics Josh Centor. “It is a day full of energy, smiles and competition, and we love every second of it.”
Events took place across campus throughout the day, including in the Cohon Center, Skibo Gymnasium, and Gesling Stadium. There was also an Olympic Village at the soccer field to serve as a location for athletes, coaches, families and volunteers to interact and have fun outside of the competition. The gymnasium at Central Catholic High School was also used for events. Golf and tennis events were not held this year as a result of the inclement regional weather leading up to the sectional.
More than 200 volunteers helped make the event a success, many of whom were Carnegie Mellon student-athletes.
“Special Olympics is just a lot of fun. It's fun for the athletes. It's fun for the families. It's fun for the volunteers,” said junior men’s basketball player Patrick Ehland. “To see how much it means to the athletes to be competing as well as to see how happy and proud the families are — it's just a really rewarding experience. I also enjoy how we, as student-athletes here, really step up as leaders in the community and give back by being on the committee or volunteering on event day. It's awesome to see, and definitely a unique experience.”
The Special Olympics were founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and have grown to become an international organization consisting of 4.9 million athletes training and competing in more than 170 countries. Locally, the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania was chartered in 1970 and supports 20,000 athletes who participate at more than 260 local, sectional, and state level competitions.
Carnegie Mellon University will continue the honor of hosting the Western Spring Sectional again in April 2019, and student-athletes that participated this year are excited to volunteer once again.
Ehland says he’ll most definitely be back. “It is just too much fun and too rewarding to not be involved. To give up some time to attend a few meetings and spend one Saturday in the spring to help make something so awesome happen is worth it 100% of the time. I'd encourage others to get involved in whatever way they can too; they won't regret it!”