A sea of friendly faces will converge on Harding Stadium Saturday for the annual Ohio Area 9 Special Olympics Qualifer.
Opening ceremonies for nearly 275 athletes will begin at 10 a.m. at the stadium, and we're hoping area residents can spend a portion of their day cheering on our local competitors in the annual event.
Representing programs from Jefferson, Belmont, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Harrison, Coshocton and Muskingum counties, the athletes will participate in track and bocce activities at the stadium complex.
The athletes will have the chance to advance to the state Special Olympics Summer Games to be held June 22-24 in Columbus, but there'll be no losers Saturday.
True happiness is experienced just in putting forth the effort.
This year the athletes will compete in the 50-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter races; standing and running long jump; shot put; softball throw; wheelchair slalom races; 25-meter independent walk; high jump; and pentathlon. There also will be a 100-meter wheelchair race.
A large group of volunteers - more than 200, in fact - many of whom return every year, will be on hand to lend their support on Saturday. These volunteers assist in many ways during the events, including waiting at the finish lines to congratulate and hug our local athletes.
The athletes competing Saturday have worked hard to be able to participate. They have a special enthusiasm, as the events are an opportunity to renew friendships with fellow competitors that have developed during the years.
These games help to improve the athletes' self-esteem, and that's always a good thing.
We, too, can help these athletes feel better about themselves by making sure the Harding complex is filled with a crowd of onlookers. Admission is free, so why not commit a few hours of the day to our area athletes?
We appreciate all involved with the Special Olympics, from the sponsors whose donations make the day possible to those who work tirelessly to organize the event. We also thank the hundreds of volunteers whose efforts ensure that each competitor receives encouragement.
But we especially appreciate and congratulate each athlete who is competing - giving his or her all as a Special Olympian, and we couldn't ask for anything more than that.