Eastern to host 40th annual Special Olympics spring games

Hannah Shillo, Entertainment Reporter

Special Olympics athletes are competing in the annual spring games at O’Brien Field Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This is the 40th year Eastern Illinois University has hosted the spring games, although Vanessa Duncan, Region I Assistant Director of Development for Special Olympics Illinois, said it is unofficially the 41st year.

“It always depends on who you ask,” she said. “The actual 40th annual was last year, but the first one was not a sanctioned (event); it was more like a play day. The following year was the first official games.”

Duncan said the “play day” only had about 30 to 40 athletes, whereas this year, there are over 400 athletes competing.

In addition to the athletes, there are over 300 volunteers to help make sure the events run smoothly and encourage the athletes to finish their events strong.

These athletes will be competing in track and field events, including the 50-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter races.

“We started the 50-meter run,” she said. “That is our shortest run for athletes who are competing. We have shorter runs for our player development model, which are our athletes who are not ready to compete yet.”

That race is a 25-meter assisted run where the athletes have people on the track with them helping them complete the races.

Duncan said there are no athletes this year running the mile.

Field events include the traditional shot put, running long jump and high jump, but also variations of those field events, according to Duncan.

She said the variations are the tennis ball throw for the athletes who cannot grip a full softball, and the softball throw for the athletes who have not graduated up to the shot put yet.

“I’d say our most popular field event is the softball throw,” Duncan said. “We have over 250 athletes in the softball throw. People love the softball throw.”

There will be six different throwing stations set up, in addition to the shot put throwing stations, for all of the events since they are so popular, Duncan said.

The Special Olympics Spring games, according to Duncan, are held at Eastern because of the top-notch field quality.

“EIU has the best place for a track and field event for sure,” she said. “That’s why (high school) boys’ state and girls’ state are here every year. (The Illinois High School Association) knows it (and) we know it, so we are very thankful.”

She said the only bad thing about the event is the lack of available parking, but she said things could be worse.

Duncan said she is excited to see how well the athletes perform and how they encourage each other.

“Some of them are really competitive,” she said. “But it’s so great to see because they still hug each other at the end.”

Hannah Shillo can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].