'Their day to shine'

World Games on the line for Special Olympians

A chance to compete in the 2007 World Games in China will be at stake this weekend for the 139 athletes and 15 teams participating in the Special Olympics competition in Craig. And, if you don't think competitors take the games seriously, think again, a coordinator said.

"Very seriously," said Julie Fite, Western Area director for the Special Olympics. "We encourage six to eight weeks of training and ask that all our coaches be certified. ...

"This is their day to shine -- the day they can show their stuff and how hard they've worked."

The Western Area Summer Games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Moffat County High School. Friday is reserved for a dinner and dance; opening ceremonies and the Games begin Saturday.

Athletes must qualify in area games, such as the Craig competition, to compete in state games later this summer. If athletes earn a gold medal at the state level, they are placed in a lottery for the World Games.

Because an event in Grand Junction was cancelled, more athletes are competing in this year's games than ever before, Fite said. Admission to the event is free, and spectators can roam from event to event.

"You can walk to all three because they're so close and get a little taste of everything," she said. "It's an exciting event, and there is a lot of clanking going on from all those medals."

This weekend's event is the largest of the year for the Craig Kiwanis Club, which sponsors and helps organize the competition. The group has coordinated the local Special Olympics for more than 20 years.

Member Jim Herschberg, who's serving as games director, said the Special Olympics is the biggest event of the year for Kiwanis.

"We do a lot, but I think Special Olympics is the nearest and dearest to the membership of Kiwanis," said Herschberg, noting that more than 30 members are volunteering to help this weekend.

He said the expanded roster of athletes for this year's competition means the Kiwanis Club will have a busy weekend.

"I don't know of us ever having more," Herschberg said. "That (presents) a couple of challenges. It's intimidating, but we'll make it work."

The Kiwanis Club encourages local residents to take part in the games, in whatever way they can.

"We can always use more volunteers, and we can definitely use more spectators," Herschberg said. "It's really fun and a really rewarding thing to be at."

For information about the Special Olympics or about volunteering, call Herschberg at 824-9361.

Josh Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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