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Saturday sessions shortened due to heat, lightning brings an early end to games Sunday

In response to high temperatures, organizers at the Special Olympics Summer State Games shortened activities on Saturday, but that seemed to have little effect on the more than 2,000 athletes and coaches, who jumped feet first into competition in track and field, golf, softball and bocce.by: GARY ALLEN - An athlete comes in for a landing in the long jump pit Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, there was nothing Special Olympics of Oregon (SOOR) staff and the approximately 1,500 volunteers on hand could do about a lightning storm Sunday, which brought the event to an abrupt and early end.

But thanks to the news that the Summer State Games will return to Newberg for a fifth consecutive year in 2015, there is still something to which everyone involved can look forward.

SOOR board president Terry Tymchuk made the announcement during the opening ceremonies Saturday evening, drawing one of the biggest cheers of the night.

“We were very excited to announce to the thousands of athletes, families, volunteers and friends that the Special Olympics Oregon Summer State Games will return next year to the city of Newberg,” CEO Margie Hunt said. “With the generous support of the Austin family, along with other participating sponsors and the incredible enthusiasm of the people of Newberg, we anticipate Newberg to be the home of SOOR Summer Games for a very long time.”

After getting a forecast early in the week that temperatures would rise above 90 degrees, event organizers responded by shortening the competition schedule by an hour or two at each venue Saturday, but also stepped up efforts to provide water and shade for competitors and coaches. by: GARY ALLEN - Law enforcement personnel, mostly police officers and sheriff's deputies, from around the state gathered on Loran Douglas Field Saturday evening to greet the athletes as they entered the stadium at the onset of the opening ceremony.

SOOR vice president for sports Mark Hanken joked that the volunteers for event’s “Water Brigade,” which was coordinated by the Knights of Columbus and Family Life Church, were upgraded to “hydration engineers” due to the increased demand.

“They did a lot for us,” said parent and coach Angie Schmidling, who was named the state’s most outstanding volunteer. “They shortened our bocce matches and got us off the field. They had extra tents out there, extra water. They kept us out of the sun. It’s hot, but I think they did great.”

Hanken added that it took the collaboration of everyone involved in order to make the necessary adjustments, the biggest of which might have been moving dinner from the soccer field adjacent to Mabel Rush Elementary inside Newberg High School, where seating was limited. by: GARY ALLEN - Portland Trail Blazer great Jerome Kersey signed autographs and spent time with athletes during the opening ceremony Saturday on Loran Douglas Field at Newberg High School.

That not only meant erecting a temporary 400-person tent to increase capacity and reseating its dining areas to ensure all 2,200 athletes and coaches were fed, but transitioning the two gymnasiums from its daytime functions into a staging area for the traditional parade of athletes into the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

Based on the energy and enthusiasm of the athletes at the dance party that followed the lighting of Special Olympics torch, one wouldn’t have guessed the weather had been anything out of the ordinary

Because events were shortened, Hanken said a majority of teams and athletes were able to make it back to their hotels to shower and cool off before returning to NHS for dinner, which is something that doesn’t normally happen.

“I’m blown away with the level of commitment that our volunteer coaches and volunteers had to make a new plan work on short notice,” Hanken said.

Clouds, cool temperatures and even a little rain were at first a welcome sight Sunday morning, but lighting delayed the start of competition for about an hour at most venues. Competition resumed for about another hour before lightning was spotted repeatedly and forced organizers to cancel the remainder of the games. {img:44914}

“People were disappointed, obviously,” Warner said. “All of our athletes work extremely hard to get to this point, but at least in the big gym, where the bulk of the track athletes were, I think they understood. We had a great day (Saturday) with great competition.”

Hanken pointed out that enough of the competition was completed to make the awarding of medals legitimate, like in the case of Newberg bocce player Maria Angelechio, who teamed with unified partner Alicia Mannetter to win gold for the second consecutive year.

“It was just as fun as ever,” Mannetter said.

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