Watch now: Friends reunite at Special Olympics festival in Mattoon | Local

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2022 Special Olympics Family Festival Chair Tiffany Walters discusses this year’s event at Lake Land College in Mattoon.



MATTOON — Kent Wilson has many fond memories of friendly people and fun games at previous Special Olympics family festivals, his only gripe being that the events end at 2 p.m.

“It’s exciting,” the Special Olympics athlete from Tuscola said of the festival. He added: “It’s going too fast.”

Wilson and more than 400 Central Illinois Special Olympics athletes were able to play carnival games, sing karaoke, watch a parade and enjoy many other activities on Saturday when the Family Festival returned as an in-person event at Lake Land College after being held at bay in 2020 and 2021.

Each athlete was again accompanied by a volunteer from the Friend for a Day. The Wilson’s Friend volunteer was Alicia Adams, a student from the southern suburbs of Chicago who runs track at Eastern Illinois University.






Special Olympics athlete Kent Wilson of Tuscola, left, and his friend for a day, Alicia Adams, visit therapy dog ​​Sadie and her handler, Julie Viertel, on Saturday during the Special Olympics Family Festival at Lake Land College in Mattoon.


ROB STROUD, JG-TC


Adams, a newcomer to the Family Festival, said she jumped at the chance to volunteer because she loves events like this. She said she was impressed with the lively atmosphere she found at the festival as she and Martin began exploring canopies full of activity on the Lake Land lawn.

“I can find a new friend. I’m so excited about it,” Adams said.

One of their first stops was to pet Sadie, a 4-year-old cocker spaniel that Julie Viertel from Charleston brought from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Alliance volunteers at the festival also included Jessica Wendling from Charleston, with 6-year-old Cocker-Poodle mix Penny.

“Petting them is such good therapy. It relieves a lot of stress and makes people happy,” Wendling said as other Special Olympics athletes and volunteers flocked to the dogs.







Carnival games (copy)

Special Olympics athlete Gunner Ballinger of Trowbridge, right, throws darts at balls during the Special Olympics Family Festival on Saturday at Lake Land College in Mattoon.


ROB STROUD, JG-TC


Special Olympics athlete Gunner Ballinger from Trowbridge and his one-day friend, family friend Wes Andrews from Neoga, walked to a dart board where volunteers guarded a large wall filled with dartboards balloons. Ballinger popped two of the balloons with his dart throws before enthusiastically heading for the next canopy.

“Everyone works really hard,” Andrews said of the volunteers. He added: “It’s good to see that everyone has a friend and no one is left behind.”

The Family Festival also included a parade with a long line of emergency response vehicles, Lake Land athletes, pageant royalty, motorcycles and other participants. This procession passed through campus after an opening ceremony in which Special Olympics athletes carried the Olympic torch onto the main stage.







The torch is coming (copy)

Special Olympics Athlete Joel Hardin of Noble, right, is joined by his Friend-For-A-Day, Stenoree Allen, as he prepares to light the torch during the Special Olympics Family Festival Saturday at Lake Land College in Mattoon.


ROB STROUD, JG-TC


Noble’s Joel Hardin, who lit the big torch, said he was originally supposed to do so in 2020, but the Family Festival was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the torch lighting was worth the wait and was “pretty cool”.

Hardin and fellow athlete Eric Midgett of Robinson shared a one-day friend, Stenoree Allen, a college student from Indianapolis who races track at Eastern. Hardin, who competes in the shot put and other sports, said he was happy to know the East Track athlete because “he’s a cool guy” and also had looking forward to reconnecting with old friends at the Family Festival.

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“I just like having fun and hanging out with friends you don’t see very often,” Hardin said.

The festival was established in 1984 by employees of Consolidated Communications and is recognized as the largest event of its kind in the United States. Now in its 39th year, the event is organized by employees of Consolidated, First Mid Bank & Trust and Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System as part of a team of more than 1,000 volunteers.

Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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