UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ)– Thusday, Special Olympics Pennsylvania announced they’re canceling the 2020 Summer Games due to coronavirus concerns.
Last year, Special Olympics PA held their 50th summer games, featuring about 2,000 athletes from across the state who could compete in eight different sports. The games also typically draw about 1,000 volunteers and 750 coaches.
This is the largest Special Olympics gathering in PA and, for the last 32 years, Penn State’s University Park Campus has played host to the games.
WTAJ spoke with Special Olympics PA leadership who explained why they feel canceling the 2020 summer games was the best decision.
“In the midst of this crisis, everybody understands it’s simply not safe to bring several thousand people together.” Matthew Aaron, President & CEO of Special Olympics PA said.
He added: “From the health perspective, there really wasn’t a decision, it was obviously this is the direction we needed to go.”
In addition to canceling the summers games themselves, Special Olympics PA also canceled the opening ceremonies (most recently held inside Pegula Ice Arena), and the 150 mile law enforcement torch run (from Pittsburgh to University Park) leading up to the games.
While the traditional elements of the games may no longer be occurring, a new set of virtual summer games is being planned.
“We’re trying to take all these lemons and make some lemonade,” Aaron said. “As we look at a virtual event, we’re trying to engage not only the 2,000 athletes we can normally physically bring to campus, we’re trying to virtually engage all 20-thousand athletes all over the state.”
The virtual games could include virtual opening ceremonies with a virtual torch lighting and virtual dance party.
Staff are also currently exploring options for potential competitions to continue through a virtual platform.
The summer games were scheduled for June, 11-13. The virtual summer games will now take place during this time frame.
In addition to the summer games going virtual, the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run has a livestream planned for Sunday, April 19 at 11:00 a.m. has as well. Runners/walkers are invited to take part in either a 3.1 mile run or 2 mile family fun walk virtually.
Special Olympics PA leadership said they’re confident the summer games will be back in 2021.
“Our athletes are some of the most resilient and optimistic people that I’ve ever met. This is disappointing for all of us, but our athletes are gonna understand why we made this decision, and they’re gonna come back better and stronger than ever before,” Aaron said.
Thursday, Penn State announced all summer camps they planned to host through mid-Jun have been cancelled.