After countless practice hours, the moment finally arrived, the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games at Prudential Center in Newark.
More than 18,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers are about to enter the arena they’re all waiting for the traditional parade of athletes and the lighting of the Special Olympics caldron signifying the beginning of the week’s event.
The crowds erupted in excitement as their state delegations proudly walked onto the stage. Team New Jersey–269 strong–entered the arena to a thunderous applause.
“We’re really really happy Special Olympics is here,” said CEO and President of NJ Sports and Exposition Authority Wayne Hasenbalg.
“I think it celebrates all the citizens of our states, these are the games of welcome and acceptance and we’re gonna be inspired by our athletes all week long,” said TJ Nelligan, CEO and President of the 2014 Special Olympics USA games.
It was an incredibly proud moment, not only for the athletes but for the coaches and parents like Senate President Steve Sweeney– his daughter’s a member of Team New Jersey.
“And she’s so excited and I’m so excited for her, cause it’s not about winning, it’s about competing and feeling like a champion because you competed,” said Sweeney.
“I just feel that the Special Olympics changed my life,” said Edward Barbanell.
“Sports has just changed their life, not only their life by their families life,” said Silva Haas.
The evening event was filled with star-studded performances. The Special Olympics flag was presented and raised above the enthusiastic crowd and then finally–the Flame of Hope was carried into the middle of the arena. Flames illuminated the stage after the caldron was lit.
“I hearby declare the games open,” said Tim Shriver.
“To be part of the Special Olympics, you have to have heart, courage, spirit, integrity and the braveness to compete,” said Russ Olive of Team South Carolina.
After the ceremony some of the athletes were deeply moved.
“Basically I cried, I teared up,” said Trimper Hoover of Team South Carolina.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Brad Hammond of Team South Carolina.
“They’re all winners, because they’re all family, we call it our family,” said Florence Felano.
Team New Jersey’s Denise Navarro, who’s bowled for nearly 30 years, was brought to tears.
“It changed my life by helping others that cannot do things for themselves,” said Navarro.
With that mindset there isn’t any doubt all of these athletes truly are champions.