News Release, Special Olympics Maryland

From June 7-9, more than 1,500 athletes competed in the 2019 Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games, marking the 49thyear of the organization’s largest statewide event. Athletics, bocce, cheerleading, softball, and swimming competitions took place across the three days at Towson University and Cockeysville Middle School.

Each year, the excitement among Summer Games athletes, families, volunteers and fans is apparent immediately upon stepping onto campus on the first day of competition. This year, that excitement extended into a weeklong celebration leading up to the games.

Photo by Steve Ruark

On Tuesday, eight individuals with intellectual disabilities delivered inspirational speeches to an audience of more than 100 at Towson’s West Village Commons. The group of presenters — which included three Special Olympics Maryland athletes – spoke of topics surrounding the theme of moving forward. Monique Matthews, a Baltimore County athlete who competes in athletics, delivered a powerful speech in which she acknowledged a variety of obstacles she’s faced and subsequently overcome throughout her life. “I was so happy to have the opportunity to tell my story,” she said. “Nobody can tell my story better than me. It was incredible to share it in front of such a big audience.” Matthews, along with fellow Baltimore County athlete Chad Edwards (left) and Anne Arundel County athlete Krystle Powell, were selected to speak and prepared to deliver them as part ofSpecial Olympics Maryland’s Athlete Leadership Program.

Photo by Larry Canner

Then on Thursday, more than 300 guests enjoyed an evening of gourmet food & drink, a silent and live auction, and inspirational messages from Special Olympics Maryland athletes at the first-ever Torch Gala in Baltimore. The event, which took place at the Under Armour House at Fayette, highlighted the work of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), a global grassroots movement that raises funds and awareness for Special Olympics through a variety of activities throughout the year. The evening’s speakers included Brave in the Attempt Talks presenter Chad Edwards along with athletes Michael Heup, Lori Plaxen, and Annu Singleton. “It felt magical,” Heup said of sharing his story on stage. The event, in its inaugural year, raised more than $250,000 in support of the 8,033 athletes who train and compete year-round.

Friday marked the official start of competition as cheerleaders performed routines throughout the day in the Towson Center Arena. As a surprise for athletes who had just finished competing, the LETR Final Leg team carried the torch inside the arena and awarded the winners with their medals. The cheerleaders then presented the runners with medals of their own, congratulating them for running the Final Leg through Baltimore to Towson on its way to Opening Ceremonies. Swimmers competed at Burdick Hall Friday as well, a first this year as the sport traditionally kicks off competition on Saturday.

Photo by Larry Canner

Athletes enjoyed a block party before entering SECU Arena for the Opening Ceremonies. WBAL’s Ashley Hinson served as emcee, along with Baltimore County’s Sam Livingston and Monique Matthews (left). While Monique enjoyed speaking at Tuesday’s Brave in the Attempt Talks, she had more fun as co-emcee of Friday night’s festivities. “It just felt exhilarating,” she said. “The three of us really had a great flow, and I loved the reactions from the crowd.” Hinson, a Texas native who joined the WBAL-TV 11 team last July, was inspired by the evening and had a blast co-emceeing with Sam and Monique. “It was a joy for me!” she wrotein a tweet. Highlights of the ceremonies included Montgomery County athlete David Godoy’s saxophone rendition of Queen’s “We are the Champions,” Howard County athlete Al Barnes’ singing of the National Anthem, an inspirational keynote speech from athlete RJ Nealon, and remarks from select special guests. Dave Sweiderk, President & CEO of Opening Ceremonies sponsor SECU, addressed the crowd along with Towson Men’s Basketball Coach Pat Skerry and Women’s Basketball Coach Diane Richardson, who gave pep talks to the athletes in the stands in preparation for their upcoming competitions. After the traditional reciting of the Special Olympics Athlete Oath led by Allegany County athlete Stephanie Pyles, the Flame of Hope made its way through the arena on its way to the cauldron outside. The cauldron was lit by Anne Arundel County athlete and current Law Enforcement Torch Run Athlete Ambassador Elaina Camacho, declaring the 2019 Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games officially open.

Photo by Paul Anderson

Competition kicked off early Saturday morning at Unitas Stadium, where athletes competed in a variety of track & field events. Spectators witnessed a photo finish (right) in the 4x200M relay as Saint Mary’s County’s team of Rodta Maddox, Donnell Thompson, Joseph Williams, and Corey Woodland narrowly defeated Prince George’s County’s Shauncey Wyse, Malcolm Nelson, Elijah Harrod, and Calvin Massenburg by a margin of just 0.6 seconds. Across campus on Burdick Field, bocce competition took place for singles and doubles in both traditional and unified play, and Burdick Hall hosted the remaining two days of swimming; another sport marked by several close races. Saturday morning’s men’s 50 yard backstroke was decided by just over one second, as Joseph Collins (Calvert County) took the gold at 58.00 seconds, Jason Whitmore (Washington County) earned silver at 58.25 seconds, and Juan Carroll (Howard County) brought home the bronze at 59.51 seconds.

Photo by Steve Ruark

Next door, the University Union hosted Healthy Athletes – a Special Olympics program dedicated to providing health services and education to Special Olympics athletes. Attendees could participate in Healthy Hearing screenings thanks to Towson University’s Audiology program led by Dr. Jennifer Smart, as well as learn about general health practices like handwashing and sunblock application. Back in the Towson Center Arena, children ages 2-7 participated in an open house for theSpecial Olympics Maryland Young Athletes Program (YAP)(left)— a sport and play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities that introduces basic sport skills like running, kicking, and throwing. This year’s open house marks the third and best-attended year of YAP at Summer Games; an increase likely attributed to the significant growth the program has seen in schools throughout the state this past year.

Photo by Steve Ruark

Softball took place both on campus and off-site at Cockeysville Middle School, which saw brand new upgrades this year thanks to longtime Special Olympics Maryland partner Aerotek. Named Aerotek Park at Cockeysville Middle School (right), the facility underwent field improvements and added temporary dugouts, enhanced signage, play-by-play announcers and food truck options, bringing a real championship feel to the competition. So what did the players themselves think about the upgrades? “IT WAS AWESOME!” Trevor Golden, a Montgomery County softball player exclaimed; his team went on to win gold in their division, overpowering Harford County by a score of 25-4 on Sunday. The on-campus softball competition took place at the Tiger Softball Complex and saw no shortage of excitement either. Overseen by Umpire-in-Chief Jim Chin, who is retiring this year after 28 years of officiating Special Olympics Maryland softball games, the two days were filled with close matchups. The final game was a nail-biter, and in a fitting end to an all-around thrilling weekend, Anne Arundel County defeated Howard County witha walkoff singleto bring home the gold medal.

Throughout the week and weekend, 650 unique volunteers filled 900 roles, ensuring a smooth and successful experience for Special Olympics Maryland athletes. Help came in every form from individualvolunteers, families, coaches, law enforcement partners, corporate groups, and so many more. Many of Towson’s student-athletes and coaches volunteered throughout the weekend, making for a memorable experience on their home fields. “Everybody likes a challenge and these are gritty athletes and they work hard,”said E.A. Jackson, Towson’s Field Hockey coach, whose team assisted with track & field events for the weekend. “An event like today is pretty uplifting and it’s pretty special to be a part of.”

Photo by Steve Ruark

For Monique Matthews (left), it was a week to remember. “It’s not just exciting. It’s basically us coming together as a community,” she said. “Some people don’t think that people with intellectual disabilities can do anything. But look at me! I have an intellectual disability. I gave a speech at Brave in the Attempt Talks. I emceed Opening Ceremonies at Summer Games. I competed in Summer Games. People with disabilitiescando it.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...