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Ontario Special Olympics coming to town in 2015

Friday, December 06, 2013   by: Mark Pare

Special Olympians, coaches and officials pose for a photo after Friday morning's press conference announcing the event./MARK PARE PHOTO

The 2015 Ontario Special Olympics Winter Games has officially been announced, as North Bay will play host to the best in the province for the first time.

The games will occur on January 29 and finish off February 1st, 2015 with six events including: snowshoeing, speed skating, figure skating, curling, downhill and cross-country skiing.

Games Manager will be City Police Constable Merv Shantz.  He says it’s quite an honour for the City and the police service.

“Every time these Special Olympics goes to a community or a town, they go through the law enforcement agency in that city,” he said, “We’re proud to be involved with Special Olympics in that partnership and just can’t wait to get things going.”

As part of his role, Shantz says he will be organizing the committees and looking into fundraising opportunities and partnerships throughout the next year.

President and C.E.O. of Special Olympics Ontario Glenn MacDonell says all the sporting elements of any games looks the same but the magic, he thinks, comes in the people and the feeling the community will have leading in and out of the games.

“If we’re going to raise all this money and do all this work for a three-day celebration, we’d probably stop,” he said, “But what it is, is to create more awareness, more pride in the city, make the Special Olympics program here in North Bay bigger and larger and more volunteers so those are really sort of what were moving towards.”

The City didn’t have to bid for these games.  Shantz says MacDonell called Police Chief Paul Cook and had some discussions about it.  MacDonell says his role was a small one.

“My role was to stay talking with Chief Cook ‘till I got him to say yes,” he said with a laugh, “But it was pretty easy because the Chief and his fellow comrades from North Bay had already demonstrated a real interest.”

“When we got up here and looked and said all the sporting facilities are what we need and everywhere we went, from the university to the military to the hotel community.  Everybody said absolutely, we want to be part of this so when you then take that back to the big shot when trying to make the decisions, it’s a pretty easy decision.”

It is yet another element on the sports tourism business in the city, which is gearing up for the World Ringette Championships at the end of the month.

The industry, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli says was a dream that started quite some years ago.

“We have the facilities; we have the drive and the spirit in North Bay.  That’s one thing,” he said, ”We’re a very giving community so this is an extra special time to credit those who have brought these Special Olympics to North Bay in 2015.  It’s going to be a wonderful event with a thousand people here.  That’s a lot of hotels, a lot of restaurants and great use of our facilities.”

MacDonell says the easiest way to explain Special Olympics is they just use sport to integrate people, and they have a lot of fun doing it.

He feels confident in standing beside a “credible guy” like Chief Cook and in that, “you become more credible yourself.”

MacDonell adds moving into the games, there will be a lot of opportunities to celebrate together and learn.

There’s plenty of time to do it, as the countdown has begun.

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