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Special Olympics NY To Revive Fall Games At Glens Falls

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Special Olympics New York is bringing its State Fall Games back to Glens Falls this October after a five-year absence.

The games featuring soccer, softball, bocce, cycling, golf, equestrian, and cross-country running were initially scrapped by Special Olympics in 2015 due to budget cuts – but CEO Stacey Hengsterman says they’re back thanks to sheer determination and fundraising.

Credit Jesse King / WAMC
Despite heavy snow, Friday's State Fall Games announcement drew a large crowd in Glens Falls.

“We serve people with intellectual disabilities across the state, and we pay for all their training, and competitions, and hotel stays. So we have to fundraise, and that’s how we’re gonna do it – but we’ve put it in the budget, we’re committed to it," Hengsterman explains. "So we have to work hard, but it’s important and a priority for our athletes, so we’re gonna do it.” 

Special Olympics New York is the national organization’s largest chapter, serving 67,000 athletes statewide. Hengsterman predicts the Fall Games will draw some 1,300 athletes, coaches, and family members to sports venues across the Glens Falls region, including Cool Insuring Arena, Queensbury’s Adirondack Sports Complex, SUNY Adirondack and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

The games could mean an economic boost for venues and locations that may have been missing the love, but Glens Falls Mayor Daniel Hall says it’s also about showing the city’s colors.

“This is what we’re about, we have a great collaborative effort in our community with nonprofits and people that are trying to help and give their time," says Hall. "And Glens Falls has great venues – we’ve got the school system that’s just a mile away that’s got a lot fields, and our parks, and our college. So it’s a good fit.”  

For the athletes, the return to Warren County means an opportunity to play on a larger stage. Special Olympian Jude Killar, who now works for the New York chapter, says he often faced bullying growing up, and found community in the organization’s softball and basketball teams. Without the Fall Games, however, his softball team had nowhere to compete beyond a regional level. 

“Getting our Fall Games back means a lot to us because last regional games we came in first place and got the gold medal, so," Killar notes. "We’re happy that Fall Games is back, and it’s been a great opportunity for me, being able to work behind the scenes and to be able to help everyone who is here to support us. Thank you.”

2020 also marks the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics New York. Mayor Hall says the opening ceremony will take place at Cool Insuring Arena, and Hengsterman predicts a little more flare with this year’s run. Mostly, she says audiences can expect fierce competition and sportsmanship.

“They compete to win, but they care as much about winning as they care about each other, and that’s what [audiences] see. And I find that when people volunteer for Special Olympics they’re hooked, and they always come back – and that’s just how Glens Falls [is], they come back and they still wanna do more," says Hengsterman. "But we do need volunteers! About 1,000 volunteers [are] needed for over the two days, so we’re really going to be looking to the Glens Falls community and surrounding areas to help us out.”

The State Fall Games are October 23 and 24. Interested volunteers can contact the Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce. Special Olympics New York is also preparing its June Summer Games in Dutchess County, and Winter Games in Rochester next week. 

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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