FARGO - Downtown was full of endless applause and high-fives on Thursday, June 7, for more than 500 athletes from across North Dakota competing in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Special Olympics this weekend.
Fans lined the sidewalks with motivational signs as teams for the annual state summer games were escorted down Broadway by North Dakota State University student athletes during the parade of athletes.
Kasi Shipley held a sign with the quote from Mister Rogers, "I like you just the way you are!" as her coworkers from Prairie Public carried large plush toys of Big Bird and Grover to cheer on the crowd as they funneled into the Fargo Civic Center.
Once inside for the ceremony, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney welcomed coaches and athletes.
"I should give you a medal for all the clapping you're doing," he said.
Fargo police Officer Amy Kingzett and Jecky Oulare, Special Olympics North Dakota male athlete of the year from Grand Forks, carried the Flame of Hope to kick off the evening's events.
Patsy Garland said the summer games in Fargo is like "coming home" where she makes friends and supports fellow athletes. She's been competing 28 years, ever since she was 8 years old.
"It's fun to see athletes from the west come here to compete ...The fans, friends and family make me feel good," she said, adding that the overwhelming support during the parade made her cry.
In the 2010 Special Olympics USA Games in Lincoln, Neb., Garland met her now-boyfriend, Kenny Fowler. They both compete for Team Cass County and will be busy with volleyball and track competitions this weekend.
More than 40 athletes from the state will go on to represent North Dakota in the Special Olympics USA Games next month in Seattle.
Competitions on Friday, June 8, at Fargo Davies High School include swimming, bocce, powerlifting and volleyball. On Saturday at Fargo South High School, there will be track and field competitions as well as the closing awards ceremony. All events are free and open to the public.
More information on this weekend's events and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.specialolympicsnd.org.
'If You Go'
What: Special Olympics 50th Anniversary State Summer Games
When and Where: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, June 8, at Fargo Davies High School;
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Fargo South High School