Vermillion hosts 1999 South Dakota Special Olympics Members of the Vermillion Special Olympic team wave to well-wishers during the opening ceremonies of the 1999 Special Olympics South Dakota Summer Games, held in the DakotaDome in Vermillion May 13. Special Olympians from all over the state gathered in the Dome Thursday to witness the lighting of the Special Olympics torch, and competed in a wide array of athletic activities May 14-15. by David Lias Robert Hoover, chairman of the Special Olympics of South Dakota from Watertown, looked down from the podium Thursday during the competition's opening ceremonies at a sea of athletes who would be competing in the DakotaDome Friday and Saturday.
"This has to be the best group of athletes I've seen in years and years and years," he said.
The competitors, who ranged in age from young children to older adults, responding appropriately.
They clapped and screamed, their high spirits raising a racket that echoed off the walls and roof of the DakotaDome.
The 39 teams of athletes, which traveled to Vermillion from all corners of the state, demonstrated they were ready to compete.
Special Olympics is the world's largest program of sports training and competition for children and adults with mental disabilities.
Participation is open to all individuals 8 years of age or older. Training and competition in local, area, state and national programs are offered year-round in 22 sports.
Over 500 athletes gathered in the DakotaDome for South Dakota's games last weekend. They are among nearly one million athletes who participate in Special Olympics throughout the United States and in more than 140 countries.
Training programs and competitions are designed to meet all levels of ability. No achievement is too small, and no time is too slow in Special Olympics. Everyone is a winner.
Ross Dickenson of Vermillion, who co-directed this year's event with Sheila Prosser, also of Vermillion, said he is particularly happy with the way South Dakota has arranged its Special Olympics competitions.
"An offer is sent to all those individuals in South Dakota who have disabilities, and they are invited to participate in a regional event," he said. "It was held in Brandon Valley this year, and at that event, the times of the athletes as they participated in various events were recorded.
"That allowed the participants at the state event to be placed with athletes that had similar abilities," he added. "Everyone started on fairly even footing."
Special Olympics contribute to the physical, social and psychological development of people with mental disabilities.
Through successful experiences in sports, they gain confidence and build a positive self-image that carries over into the classroom and community.
Vermillion High School allowed some of its students to work at the games, he said.
"I feel those students gained a lot more knowledge working three or four hours in the Dome Friday than they would have during weeks in school," Dickenson said.
Dickenson and other local volunteers who help Vermillion be a gracious host to the state games are particularly grateful to the community's help.
Local participation includes more than monetary or material donations. People give their time, he said.
They walk miles in the DakotaDome during a day's events, making sure that each athlete hits the right mark at the beginning of a race.
They time the races, wait at the finish line to give each participant a hug and hang medals around the necks of every proud athlete.
"There's a lot of people that help the athletes participate," Dickenson said. "And caring is a big deal. A hug goes a long way in Special Olympics."