ITHACA, N.Y.—In six short weeks, Ithaca will be flooded with over 1,000 Special Olympics athletes as the New York version of the annual event kicks off a three-year stay at Ithaca College.

At a press conference Monday morning, various local officials celebrated that the event was finally coming to fruition — the New York Special Olympics were supposed to be held at IC starting in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped those plans. This year’s games will be held June 24-26, and Monday’s event included an extended call for volunteers to help with the event.

“I cannot say enough about what the Special Olympics means to me,” said Kinsey Henry, a 22-year-old Special Olympics competitor from Groton who has been participating since she was 12. She even went to Austria in 2017 and Dubai in 2018 to compete in the world games held there. “I have become a better speaker, I am more confident, and I am able to proudly represent people with autism. I welcome you again to our area, and I hope that you have a chance to visit some of our parks and enjoy some of the food. I’m so happy you are here.”

Groton native Kinsey Henry, a long-time Special Olympics participant. Credit: Casey Martin / Ithaca Voice

Opening and closing ceremonies will be held at Ithaca College, as well as basketball and more. A number of sporting events will take place at Ithaca High School, and Midway Lanes in Vestal will host the bowling events.

IC President La Jerne Terry Cornish, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Shawna Black, Special Olympics New York President and CEO Stacey Hengsterman all addressed the crowd and the athletes. Local Special Olympics athletes Robbie Gale and Anne Norby led the athlete’s oath of “Let me win; if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Robbie Gale, of Ithaca. Credit: Casey Martin / Ithaca Voice

“We are so excited to witness the culmination of their training and cheer them on as they pursue their athletic dreams this summer,” Cornish said.

Hengsterman followed, sounding the need for volunteers to register and help conduct the event. She noted that the main organizers of the event have all been locally based, led by Organizing Committee chair Deb Mohlenoff, of Tompkins Cortland Community College, vice chairs Cornell’s Karli Buday and Margie Malepe from Ithaca College, and additionally local lawyer Michael Perehinec. Hengsterman also thanked local sponsors NYSEG, Coughlin & Gerhart Law Offices and the Maguire Group, among others.

“We are set, we are ready to be here and so excited,” Hengsterman said. “We just have one small—or should I say, 800 small things left to do, and that is volunteers. We’re making a plea to this community to get out and help us, and I guarantee you will have the time of your life. […] We cannot do it without our volunteers.”

Those looking to volunteer can register to do so at this link.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com