Hundreds of athletes from across Georgia donned bright T-shirts and cheerful smiles, laughing, dancing and singing as they filled the stands in Gainesville Middle School.
The Special Olympics Georgia State Fall Games began Friday night with the opening ceremonies at the middle school. For the second year, Hall County and the city of Gainesville are hosting the event.
“Let me tell you from the heart, this could be the biggest fall games ever,” said Chad Mann, Hall County Sheriff’s Office community relations deputy and the master of ceremonies. “Courage, skill and joy — for 45 years, these have been hallmarks of the spirit of special games.”
Nearly 2,500 athletes and partners are in Hall for the Fall Games, which include bocce, cycling, golf and softball.
The opening ceremonies included a parade of athletes, live music from Jackson & Co. bluegrass band and a lighting of the torch by Georgia law enforcement.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this wonderful event,” said Carol Martin, chief of the Gainesville Police Department. “I’m a proud supporter of the Georgia Special Olympics.”
The crowds coming to participate in and support the fall games, plus foot traffic headed to Mule Camp Market in downtown Gainesville, mean a busy weekend for the area.
“It certainly will depend on the weather this weekend,” said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “But if it’s pretty good weather, you’re sure to have several thousand folks come in, some to enjoy the Special Olympics and then some to be in downtown Gainesville and see all that Mule Camp Market brings.”
Special Olympics Georgia CEO Georgia Milton-Sheats said potential rain Saturday will not stop the games.
“We will still play,” she said. “We may delay, but we have a contingency plan, and we will get it all in and play into the late evening. The athletes will get to compete; that’s why they came here.”
The weekend’s events will be held at multiple venues, including bocce and softball at North Hall Park, additional softball and cycling at Laurel Park and golf at Chicopee Woods Golf Course. Nearly 240 athletes will also participate in the State Horse show at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center.
Milton-Sheats expressed her gratitude to Gainesville and Hall County for hosting the events.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “The people of Gainesville and Hall County have been tremendous and have poured out and really helped us out a lot.”
Events Saturday include an Olympic Town from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the North Hall Park Community Center gymnasium at 4175 Nopone Road in Gainesville. For more information and a schedule, visit www.specialolympicsga.org.
Special Olympics Georgia
State Fall Games and State Horse Show
Where: Softball, North Hall Park and Laurel Park; bocce, North Hall Park; golf skills, Chicopee Woods Golf Course; cycling, Laurel Park; fun fitness, souvenir sales, North Hall Park; horse show, Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center.
To volunteer: Find application at www.specialolympicsga.org