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Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Winter Games returns to Seven Springs

Tribune-Review - 2/7/2020

Feb. 7--More than 350 athletes from across the state will be at Seven Springs Mountain Resort starting Sunday for the return of the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Winter Games.

"It's really incredible," said Mike Ermer, Western Competition director for Special Olympics of Pennsylvania. "All these athletes train year-round, and it gives them an opportunity to show how much they can do. I think a lot of people underestimate our athletes."

Special Olympics is an organization for athletes with physical or intellectual disabilities.

The Pennsylvania Winter Games features alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding.

The snowboarding competition is new this year. The games previously featured snowboarding exhibitions with no prizes for participants, but there now are enough competitors for a full-fledged competition.

"We've had some great volunteers who have really worked to grow the sport, so it has officially transitioned into an emerging sport, and they'll be able to earn awards now," Ermer said.

Located in Somerset County, Seven Springs has hosted the games since 2015.

"This is such an inspiring event," said Seven Springs spokeswoman Katie Buchan.

All the competitions are free for spectators, but the best way to participate is to attend the opening ceremony Sunday night, Ermer said.

An alpine skier, cross-country skier, snowshoer and snowboarder will all take part in a torch-lighting relay, highlighting all four sports.

The opening ceremony will feature live music and fireworks.

"It's quite a spectacle that we put on on," Ermer said.

The athletes will take part in an opening procession, and organizers are hoping for a large turnout of fans and spectators to line their path.

"The best thing that we can do is come out to cheer them on," Buchan said.

Skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are fairly niche sports compared to other Special Olympics events, Ermer said. For many participants, the Winter Games provide a chance to meet with friends they haven't seen for a long time.

"It's a tightknit group all the way from Erie down to Chester County, they all kind of know each other," Ermer said.

Special Olympics is an international organization, and those who do well at the Pennsylvania games could go on to compete at national or international competitions, according to Ermer.

International organizers are scrambling to find a new host country for the next World Winter Games, scheduled for February 2021, the organization announced in December. The games were supposed to be held in Sweden, until a funding agreement with the Swedish government fell through.

The Pennsylvania Winter Games opening ceremony starts 7 p.m. Sunday at the Seven Springs Ski Lodge, and the competitions will be held Monday and Tuesday. A full schedule of events is available at

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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