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Smoke cancels PA's Special Olympics Summer Games

Nearly 1600 athletes were going to take part in the games, including nearly 30 from Schuylkill County.

SCHUYLKILL COUNTY, Pa. — Newswatch 16's Claire Alfree spoke with Pennsylvania's Special Olympics staff about how the smoke is impacting one of the organization's biggest events of the year.

“Never in my career or the history of the Summer Games here in Penn State have we ever had to deal with smoke and air quality from wildfires in Canada," said Special Olympics Chief Mission Officer Nate Garland, who says canceling the Summer Games at Penn State because of air quality is a first.

The Summer Games feature the best of the best Special Olympic athletes from across Pennsylvania.

Nearly 1600 were asked to turn around because of the unsafe air quality, including nearly 30 athletes from Schuylkill County.

“I broke the news to my athletes, who arrived here right when the news broke, so I had to let the athletes know. There were some tears, but we told them we were proud of them for making it this far,” Chris Ebling, Schuylkill Special Olympics Director, said.

After evaluating the air quality with health experts, the Special Olympics State Office Staff canceled the championship to protect the health of spectators, volunteers, and athletes.

“Statistics suggest that a special mixed athlete will live 20 years less than you and I will because of those underlying health conditions. Nothing to do with their intellectual disabilities,” Garland mentioned.

Still, it was a disappointment for athletes and their families from Schuylkill County who've been training since the beginning of the year for this weekend's competition.

“It's not healthy, and some of our athletes come in here with some risks,” said Mark Mamrosh, Special Olympics Sports Leader.

“We do have athletes with asthma, so that's one of the biggest concerns,” Ebling added.

While the summer games are unable to be rescheduled, the leaders at Schuylkill County say their athletes are using this as motivation to train harder for next season.

“We offer five sports in Schuylkill County for the fall, and they'll train again, and they'll compete in DeSales, and if they win, they'll go to Villanova for fall,” Ebling said.

Staying optimistic for the Special Olympics Summer Games in 2024.

For more information on the air quality in your area, click HERE.

Check the latest Stormtracker 16 forecast HERE.

Information from the state DEP about air quality is posted HERE.

Check out WNEP’s YouTube channel.

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