TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - After 50 years of coming to Terre Haute, the Indiana Special Olympics has decided to make their events virtual this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
President and CEO Jeff Mohler says they knew back in March that there was a real possibility the special Olympics games couldn’t take place as planned. They reserved a date for late July at Indiana State and Rose-Hulman but then had to suspend all in-person operations which prompted this new virtual plan. Mohler said at first, this was extremely disappointing, but they believe this new plan can provide excitement for all involved.
“I would say that it certainly was probably the lowest point of my career here with Special Olympics when we announced it,” Mohler said, “For us to be able to advertise virtual summer games was actually not a disappointment, it was actually a spark of hope that we could do something even though we aren’t going to be together in person--that there would be something for our athletes.”
Mohler says they will have a five-week-long virtual Special Olympics Sport and Fitness challenge. All athletes, coaches, and volunteers from across the state are challenged to participate. The opening ceremonies will take place virtually on June 12th as originally planned, but they decided to extend the games to go from June 13th through July 20th. Local county Special Olympics programs can accumulate points and compete against each other.
Mohler says on July 25th, everyone will come back together for virtual closing ceremonies and awards and hopefully, local programs can celebrate in person.
After 50 years of being hosted in Terre Haute, Dave Patterson of the Vigo County Convention and Visitors Bureau calls this situation disheartening, and it goes far beyond the financial impact on the city.
“We’re all disappointed," Patterson said, "Beyond the money, it brings to our community and the 5,000 people, it’s also a tremendous event of goodwill and people coming together to showcase their talents.”
Last year was their 50th anniversary. Mohler says that was a message of celebration. Now he believes this year will be even more important to athletes, and it will instill a message of hope.
“That message of hope this year is going to be even more impactful for our athletes," Mohler concluded, "I would even say that next year in 2021 for our 52nd anniversary, the message will be even more heightened because it will be a message of reunion when we are all back together again in Terre Haute at summer games.”
Mohler says they are incredibly appreciative of the support shown by the Terre Haute community. He says we should all gear up for a huge crowd coming back next year to continue the Special Olympic games.