SPEARFISH — South Dakota’s Special Olympics State Summer Games will return to Spearfish and run today through Saturday.
Opening ceremonies begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and will be held at the Donald E. Young Center gymnasium. The lighting of the torch will occur at that time.
The Spearfish-based Northern Hills Training Center will boast a 45-athlete representation this week. Sarah Hoffman and Randy Geist are part of this group.
Hoffman, 25, will compete in powerlifting and track events, which feature a relay race, 100-meter dash, standing long jump, and softball throw.
“I’ve done it for many years and will never stop doing Special Olympics,” Hoffman said.
She said the overall experience appeals to her. She likes her coaches and loves the basketball, powerlifting, and running events.
Participating in Special Olympics means a lot to Hoffman.
“It’s a pretty good experience,” she said.
Hoffman said it would be good to compete in her home town, but she also likes to travel.
Geist, 51, is a 25-year Special Olympics veteran. His weekend slate features volleyball, softball throw, and some running events.
“I like everything,” is how Geist described Special Olympics. “I also love the volleyball and basketball.”
Geist said it would be good to compete in Spearfish this week. His mother, father, brothers, and nieces plan to attend.
Chris Schlup coaches the Northern Hills Training Center athletes.
Schlup has helped coach Special Olympics athletes for four years. They practiced one hour a week to prepare for the weekend.
What does Schlup enjoy the most about coaching?
“Seeing them come alive, and watching the smiles,” he said. “It means more to them than just coming to the training center every day.”
Schlup said his love of sports got him started in coaching. He said Special Olympics enriches the athletes’ lives and gives them a chance to compete.
“They’re getting friends who are not just in the training center,” Schlup said.
Approximately 600 athletes participated in the 2012 Summer Games in Spearfish, with coaches and parents boosting the total number to several thousand people. It was the largest Special Olympics state event ever held in South Dakota.
Spearfish resident Carl Edwards has volunteered with Special Olympics since 1978. He will spend this weekend as a delegate for the Spearfish team, helping with practice and registration.
“Once you get hooked, you stay on it,” Edwards said. “It’s so important to the athletes to share their gifts with the community.”
Edwards’ involvement began when a group of local athletes wanted to belong to Special Olympics, so he served as a coach. He also served as Black Hills area director and helped organize Spring Games and bowling events for 17 years.
The wide variety of sports is what appeals to Edwards the most. He attended the International Summer Games with the South Dakota delegation and recalled a lot of pomp and circumstance. Edwards said it was the world’s largest sporting competition.
“It’s just really important to them,” Edwards said in describing the relationship between Special Olympics and the athletes. “They love the sports activities, seeing their friends, and interactions with so many people.”
Myles Kennedy, games director and state board chairman, said the event needs volunteers. Volunteers help escort athletes to the awards stand, keep time for the running events, measure throwing and jumping efforts, and perform other functions.
Between 400 and 500 volunteers lend their services; current numbers are unknown. “Saturday’s track events are the biggest need, since many events are happening at the same time,” Kennedy said.
“It takes a lot of volunteers,” Kennedy said in describing the Summer Games. “It’s not a one-man show.”
Edwards said anyone interested in future volunteering may call him at 642-3445.
Powerlifting and five-a-side soccer begin Friday’s athletic events at 8:30 a.m. Team volleyball, soccer skills, aquatics, and race walking highlight the rest of the day. Aquatics events take place at the Young Center pool starting at 1 p.m.
Track events take center stage Saturday, beginning with the 3,000-meter run at 7:45 a.m. Throwing events, dash races, and jumping events will occur until about 3 p.m.