(Adam Vogler) [Order this photo]
More than 800 athletes, coaches and parents from across Missouri were in attendance for the special occasion and from the beginning they were given a warn welcome by local officials and organizers.
KZIM-KSIM radio personality Faune Riggin, emcee for the opening ceremonies, told the athletes that Cape Girardeau was proud to be hosting the games.
"For the third time Cape Girardeau is hosting these wonderful games where athletes will compete in a spirt of friendship," Riggin said. "You mean so much to us, and I know that Cape is going to make you all feel very welcome."
Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger also spoke to the athletes and mentioned that he was impressed by what they had to offer.
"We can all take a lesson from you and learn from your determination and spirit," Rediger said. "Welcome, athletes. We're glad you're here."
The local band Shades of Soul provided jazzy and soulful sounds followed by the entrance of the drum line from the Cape Central High School Marching Band, which marked the beginning of the ceremonies.
Then it was time for the athletes to make their appearance. Through an inflatable arch and the raised swords of the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard, the athletes, from places as far away as Kansas City and St. Joseph, entered the Show Me Center to the cheering and applause of spectators and volunteers.
"This is what it's all about," said Bobbie Woods of Sikeston, a first-time attendee. "I'm having a fantastic time. To see these kids appearing and ready to give all that they have is just awesome."
Richard Hines of Cape Girardeau said, "I know it's not easy for them all of the time, but if the could just have a few days to shine and show what they can do, I'd say it's worth it. No doubt."
When the athletes were seated, the Southeast Missouri State University Air Force ROTC presented the colors and Lisa Reitzel of Cape Girardeau sang the national anthem. But some athletes were maybe already thinking about the next day's events, which included a softball tournament at the Shawnee Sports Complex along with flag football.
"My son Tanner has been competing in Special Olympics for about 20 years," said Wanda Hrenchir of St. Joseph. "This makes the 16th time I've been able to travel with him. I know he's ready for the flag-football competition because he's been so focused all week. I'm very proud of him."
Mark Musso, president and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri, told the athletes that they represented the best that sportsmanship had to offer and praised the efforts of Cape Girardeau volunteers.
"More than 700 volunteers have been working to make the games a success," Russo said. "Without them, these games would not be near as successful as they are."
Musso said that he is already looking forward to next year's games in Cape Girardeau and closed with an encouraging "Go Cards!," referring to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, which was playing a critical playoff game Friday.
Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation director Julia Thompson officially declared the 2012 fall games open.
Many of the athletes had traveled away from home for the first time to attend the Cape Girardeau games, but Penny Williams, southeast area director of Special Olympics Missouri, said that the games presented an opportunity for the athletes regardless of the distance they had traveled.
"It's not only a sporting event," Williams said. "It's a social event. They get to be with friends and family at a friendly venue, and if not for these games they might not have the chance to do so at all. Everybody deserves that chance. That's what these games really mean." Softball, flag football and social events for the athletes were slated for Saturday, with softball finals closing out the schedule on Sunday. Games will be played at the Shawnee Sports Complex.
For more information go to www.somo.org/fallgames.
1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO