Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games likely to stay in GJ

Dozens of law enforcement officers trot around the track at Stocker Stadium on Friday carrying torches as they accompany the Special Olympics torch during the Opening Ceremony at the Special Olympic Colorado State Games.

The way Grover Wray sees things, the only debate surrounding the longevity of the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games in Grand Junction is how many more years the next contract will go for.

“We haven’t talked about needing to go somewhere else,” said Wray, the chairman of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Colorado. “As long as we continue to receive the support that we continue to receive here, there’s really no reason to think about going somewhere else.”

Grand Junction took the role as that somewhere else when the Summer Games moved from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. It’s a move that Special Olympics Senior Vice President of Programs Chaka Sutton said was a “big leap of faith.”

Now, the annual event is celebrating its sixth year — fifth in Grand Junction — and seems primed to remain in the Grand Valley for years to come.

“We had to do a lot of arm wrestling,” Colorado Mesa University Vice President for Student Services John Marshall said prior to Friday night’s Opening Ceremony at Stocker Stadium. “We were sitting in our dining hall and trying to convince them that we weren’t just a bunch of back-country brutes and that we could actually host this thing. And here we are five years later with this really special partnership.”

Colorado Mesa serves as the venue for the Summer Games’ four events: Soccer, power lifting, swimming and track and field, with track taking place at Stocker Stadium. Colorado Mesa, according to Special Olympics Colorado Director of Competition Susan Foege, also houses athletes in four on-campus residences. Six hotels in Grand Junction had rooms blocked off specifically for family members and event volunteers, according to Special Olympics Colorado’s web site.

The event had some hurdles to clear during its first years in Grand Junction. Its schedule of events initially conflicted with the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, and the four-plus hour drive from the Front Range turned many people away.

But as time went on, the facilities, festivities and event organizers became a word-of-mouth selling point for athletes who wanted to compete on a big stage.

“The big thing we hear all the time is, ‘Grand Junction? That’s almost in Utah!’ “
Foege said. “But we have Opening Ceremonies here. None of our other state events have Opening Ceremonies to this quality and this level. We have so many things to offer these athletes.”

Last year, the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission signed an agreement to keep the Summer Games in Colorado through 2018. Wray said the organization won’t think about a renewal until next year, adding that any additional presentations to entice the event to remain would likely be unnecessary.

“It’s hard to think about improving when it seems like you’re already performing at your best,” he said.

Foege, however, said there’s much more potential. More than 20,000 Special Olympics athletes in Colorado, she said, aren’t taking part in the Summer Games this weekend.

“I would love to be in a position where we fill up every dorm room on campus,” Foege said.


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