Red Deer will host 600 Special Olympic athletes competing in four sports next spring.
The last time Red Deer hosted a Special Olympics Games event was in 1993, when the city hosted the summer games.
“We’re excited that this number of athletes, coaches, parents and supporters will be in Red Deer for the weekend,” Jerry Tennant, games organizing committee chairman, said on Thursday.
The games will run from April 19 to 21, with the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School on April 19 and competition running all weekend. There will be a banquet and dance on April 20.
At the games, the 600 athletes will compete in five-pin and 10-pin bowling, swimming and basketball.
There will also be about 150 coaches and support staff at the games.
Included in the opening ceremonies is the Law Enforcement Torch Run, featuring Alberta law enforcement members.
Fundraising for the event is underway to help with a budget in the $140,000 to $150,000 range. Tennant said so far they have raised about $30,000 to $40,000, as well as gifts in kind, which includes the Red Deer Catholic Regional School District providing school buses for transportation.
Tennant expects volunteer recruitment to get underway in the new year. However, there is already the core group of volunteers on organizing committees. About 200 volunteers will be needed for the event.
The games are a qualifier for the national games in 2014.
Those who make it to the national games will have a chance to qualify for the international games.
“Two years ago they were in Athens, Greece, and Red Deer had an athlete go as part of Team Canada,” said Tennant.
“In 2006, we had three athletes go to China as part of Team Canada. There is an opportunity for athletes to progress right through the national and international games.”
The Special Olympic Games will tie in with the city’s centennial celebrations in 2013, which Mayor Morris Flewwelling said will make for an exciting spring.
“Having the Special Olympics is really quite an honour for our community,” said Flewwelling. “I am thrilled, and I’m speaking on behalf of council and all of Red Deer, that we will be having the games here.”
The mayor said when he hands out the Mayor’s Awards every year, he is always thrilled by the number of special athletes in Red Deer.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,” said Flewwelling. “That happens because so many people in this community make it a priority that we will have the special people in our community take part.”
The 2013 games will be the largest multi-sport event in the city during the Centennial celebrations.
Special Olympics Alberta was established in 1980 and currently has over 3,000 athletes from over 130 communities. In Red Deer, there are more than 200 athletes.
“I think it will impact the city in two ways,” said Tennant. “It will bring a lot of people to the city, so there’s an economic impact. It will also have a lot to do in terms of awareness of Special Olympics and who we are.”