TWIN FALLS — The cool air and rainy evening didn’t dampen spirits at the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics State Summer Games. Members of the Twin Falls Tators were laughing and blowing into gold and silver noise makers at the end of the parade of athletes.
Athletes from the other host team — the Magic Valley Wildcats — turned around to joke and greet their friends on the Tators team. Female teammates wore purple coats and male athletes wore blue. The back of the coats said, “Magic Valley Gems.”
“You guys ready?” a woman said as she approached the teams. Her question was answered with cheers and the blaring of horns. The June 9 opening ceremony marked the second year Twin Falls has held the State Summer Games. The Summer Games are typically moved to a different city each year, but Twin Falls will host the event again next year. The athletic event draws 1,200 athletes from across Idaho.
Dani DeBoer, a member of the Tators, has competed in Special Olympics for three years. She participates in the 100-meter run and the tennis ball throw.
DeBoer initially got involved because of an ex-boyfriend but stayed because she loved it.
“I want to be on a team and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” DeBoer said.
Before joining, DeBoer described herself as someone who wasn’t very active. Now she goes to the gym five days a week.
“I can be an athlete and active,” she said.
Ashton Anderson, 9, wore blue glasses in the shape of stars as she waved an American flag.
This was Ashton’s first time walking in the opening ceremonies and she was excited.
Ashton’s mother, Angie Champneys, signed her daughter up for Special Olympics this year after calling the nonprofit’s headquarters in Boise.
Champneys had heard of Special Olympics but didn’t know how to get her daughter involved.
“I think it’s amazing,” Champneys said. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity for all the athletes.”
Ashton has participated in 4-H and dance classes, but her mother has noticed she enjoys Special Olympics so much more.
“Here, she’s with people she can relate to and she can go at her own pace,” she said.
The Olympics theme song played while athletes from about 30 teams walked in front of an encouraging crowd. Some athletes walked holding banners with their team names emblazoned across them, while others moved along in wheelchairs, American flags streaming behind them.
Coach Donna Rae Henstock walked alongside with the Magic Valley Wildcats cycling team as the parade started to move. The team has been practicing for the Summer Games all year and Friday night marked some of their hard work paying off.
“The kids have fun and get to stop and see other teams they are friends with,” Henstock said. “It takes a lot of time for us to get to our spot in line.”