The sun began to sink behind the Hamilton Family Tower at Suplizio Field, at last offering those in the middle of the field some shade on Friday evening.

Among those was Grand Junction Mayor Rick Taggart. As he walked away from the stage set up behind second base, he looked at the crowd in the stands with their various colorful shirts and radiant smiles.

It's a sight Taggart knows well and welcomes: The Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games.

Friday night saw the opening ceremony take place at the baseball stadium, once again allowing Grand Junction to enjoy an athletic spotlight after the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

For Taggart, though, the spotlight isn't about the city. It's about the Special Olympians.

"It reinforces how important every life is," Taggart said. "Whether people are disabled, we're trying to make them blessed tonight. To be able to be this inclusive and bring this group of people here is very special."

The mayor was one of several who addressed the crowd to begin the ceremony. Others were Tori Smith and Conor McGahey.

Smith was born in Grand Junction, but at a young age, she and her family moved to Denver, where they remained for nearly a decade.

When she was 11, Smith returned to the Grand Valley and began participating in the Special Olympics a few years later.

One year after graduating from Central High School, she's participating in her sixth Special Olympics Summer Games.

"It means so much because, normally, the athletes in Grand Junction have to go over to Denver to compete," Smith said. "This time of year, they get to stay here and welcome everyone."

Competing athletically hasn't been Smith's only involvement in the Special Olympics. She's also taken on a leadership role among athletes, working with event coordinators to ensure the most memorable event possible.

"It's amazing. I'm so proud of everyone involved," Smith said. "I'm so thankful because throughout my six years, I've worked closely with a lot of the organizing committee. It's wonderful to see all their hard work pay off."

McGahey just completed his first season as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Colorado Avalanche. He also calls Colorado Rapids games for the Altitude television network. In fact, he'll return to Denver today to call the team's home game against Minnesota United.

McGahey also has a long history with Special Olympics athletes because of his involvement with Unified Soccer, a nationwide organization that allows special-needs athletes to play soccer.

Numerous Unified teams in the state play under the Rapids organization, meaning they get the same uniforms and travel to other states for competitions. Over the years, McGahey has helped host games as well as officiate them.

He's even officiated games at Canyon View Park in the past.

Friday, however, was his first visit to Grand Junction for the Special Olympics.

"This is everything. This is what sports should be all about," McGahey said. "It's sports at their purest. Athletes are magnificent in their work ethic and their preparation. This is the ultimate for them. This is a magical weekend for everybody involved."

As the sun began to set, country music artist and former contestant on NBC's "The Voice" Kaleb Lee took the stage with a six-string and a smile, entertaining the audience and athletes with a 30-minute performance.

Despite being from Florida, Lee had been to Grand Junction before. Several years ago, his wife competed in a race, allowing him to befriend one of the local volunteers for the Special Olympics Colorado organization.

Since then, Lee has been looking to return to Grand Junction. He couldn't pass up an opportunity to help kick off the Summer Games.

"This is so awesome," Lee said. "This is such a great opportunity for all these athletes here to have a fun weekend and do what they love. I'm just honored to be here and help out and entertain, even if it's for 30 minutes, and just give them my blessing and wish them good luck."

These Summer Games aren't just any Summer Games. They mark the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics in Colorado. Because of this, the organizers decided to go bigger and bolder than they ever had before.

Part of their solution? Taking to the skies.

While police cars from across the state lined the outfield wall, lights blazing, as the stadium's lights were cut off, the St. Mary's Hospital CareFlight helicopter landed in the outfield.

Out stepped multiple members of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, including sheriff Matt Lewis, all equipped with torches.

The officers passed the torches to numerous long-time athletes, who circled the bases while lighting dozens of other torches along the way.

The ceremony culminated when a man whose history is directly interwoven with the Special Olympics climbed the ladder at home plate and lit the flame. Matt Mueller, a lifelong citizen of Colorado who lives in Denver, has competed in the Special Olympics since their inception in the state in 1969.

"This year's is a huge year for the Special Olympics, so we really wanted to do it better and bigger than we've ever done it for these athletes before, so we're grateful for CareFlight being able to fly the flame in, the chief of police and myself, as well as this firework display they're putting on," Lewis, a 23-year veteran of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, said. "This is all about the Special Olympians and showing them the best that we can in Grand Junction for their 50th anniversary."

After Mueller lit the flame, a massive fireworks display behind the center-field wall sent everyone home on a high note.

Let the games begin.

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