By McKenna MIDDLETON
On Saturday, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games began. The Opening Ceremonies drew thousands of spectators to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti illuminated how fitting a city Los Angeles is to host the World Games; a city that celebrates diversity and acceptance is now further able to do so through the Special Olympics.
“The Special Olympics is the embodiment of the spirit of this city,” Garcetti said.
Acceptance is only one of the five values of the 2015 Special Olympics along with courage, unity, determination, and joy, all of which were displayed throughout the Opening Ceremonies.
The Special Olympics began in 1962 as a day camp in the backyard of Eunice Kennedy Shriver who was inspired by her intellectually challenged sister; no one could have imagined that day camp would turn into the worldwide event it is today. Athletes will compete in a diverse variety of events from golf to gymnastics to track and field.
A message from President Barack Obama commenced the festivities, welcoming the 164 visiting countries to the Games. OAR and Cody Simpson performed a song they had written especially for the Games.
The presentation of the participating countries began with Greece as is the custom. This was followed by all participating countries with over 6,500 athletes announced alphabetically as they walked down the red carpet toward their seats on the historic Coliseum field. The host country was announced last and the large group of American athletes was met with a roar of cheers from the audience.
“It was an amazing event. We were able to look over the tunnel from where we were and see all the athletes come out. In Glendale we’ve hosted a few delegations and we had a few athletes out there and that was really cool to see,” Glendale Kiwanis Club president and Special Olympics supporter Todd Hunt said of the Opening Ceremony.
Musical performances from Cassadee Pope, J Balvin, and Stevie Wonder celebrated the athletes’ arrival to the stadium.
The Special Olympics Flag was ceremoniously carried by Special Olympics athletes, Olympians including Michelle Kwon and Michael Phelps, and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Charles led the Special Olympics athletes oath.
First Lady Michelle Obama made an appearance at the event just before the finale. She stressed the value of unity to the crowd and then spoke the words everyone in the crowd had been anxious to hear: “Let the 2015 Special Olympics World Games begin!” Fireworks and a musical performance by Avril Levine concluded the event as spectators did the “Reach Up, L.A.” along with the athletes on the field.
“The turnout was amazing but the greatest thing to see was the athletes on the field of the Coliseum high-fiving each other,” Special Olympics Director of Community Engagement Kim Villa said. “It was a moment where you realize Special Olympics transcends lines. There are no boundaries. They don’t see separations like countries. They love unconditionally.”
The Games will take place around Los Angeles until Aug. 1. All events are free and open to spectators. The closing ceremonies are scheduled to take place on Aug. 2.