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Flag raising celebrates 50th anniversary of Special Olympics

Prince Edward County’s OPP detachment was among 50 police agencies across the province raising a flag to commemorate Special Olympics Day, Monday, and the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics in Ontario.

Police departments and related agencies have raised more than $35 million in the annual Ontario Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Ontario over the past 30 years.

Community supporters, volunteers and students from all grade levels at PECI attended the flag raising at the detachment in Picton Monday morning. They cheered Luke Flynn, of Picton, a multi-medal winning Special Olympics swimming athlete.

“Luke Flynn is a Special Olympian who lives here in Picton, and he has a special place in our hearts here at the PEC OPP Detachment,” said John Hatch, OPP Dettachment Commander. “His work at our office, cleaning the cruisers three days a week, allows me brag to anyone who will listen to me, that we have the cleanest OPP Fleet in the province.”

While the County doesn’t have an athlete competing in this year’s inaugural Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games in May in Toronto, “we do have some fantastic local special athletes like Luke here with us, celebrating and cheering on fellow athletes across the province,” said John Hatch, OPP Detachment Commander.

Hatch was also pleased to welcome County residents Brian and Kirsteen Etherington, who, with their family have many decades of involvement and have raised millions of dollars for Special Olympics.

“He is the chairman of the Ontario Invitational Youth Games this summer and I’m very proud to have him here today,” said Hatch, noting he was supposed to be attending the 50th anniversary ceremony in Toronto, but chose Prince Edward County, “so I owe the police chief of Toronto an apology,” he chuckled.

“50 years ago, if you had an intellectual disability, it wasn’t the same as looking at Luke today, who is running his own business, is a thriving member of his community, whose applauded for his work in the pool and his accomplishments,” said Etherington. “If you had a disability years ago, generally you were condemned to the room at the back of the house with the shutters drawn.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson poses with Luke Flynn at the barbecue following the flag raising.

He told the gathered crowd great change is due to the founders of the Special Olympics organization now right around the world and the fundraising from the law enforcement torch run.

“Today we have four million Luke Flynns in 171 countries,” said Etherington… “There are 26,000 Special Olympic athletes in Ontario and the partnership we have with the law enforcement torch run is one of the reasons.”

Etherington also applauded the work of Community Living and its Prince Edward County branch for its work.

“There was a man by the name of Harry Red Foster who founded Special Olympics Canada. He was a sportsman, he was a businessman, but prior to founding Special Olympics Canada he was the chairman of the fore-runner of Community Living. He created what was then called the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded.

Look how far we’ve come – now that’s a word we are trying to extinguish from our vocabulary. This week we have a ‘No Good Way’ campaign. There’s no good way to say the ‘R’ word. So we’ve come a long way but we thank our partners at Community Living for paving the way.”

He addressed the students in attendance as future leaders.

“It’s very important we tap into your leadership early… Special Olympics Ontario has an association with over 65 school boards around the province who are running Special Olympics programs – a bridge for children who have special needs to be introduced to Special Olympics and the treatment they receive from fellow students is amazing.”

He invited them to watch the games in May which will be breaking new ground, hosting athletes from around the world with, and without, intellectual disabilities who will compete against, and alongside each other.

“It’s going to be a celebration because so many people like you – students, teachers, law enforcement, community care leaders, municipal representatives, governments – are supportive.”

Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson told the crowd the Special Olympics movement “represents the values of inclusion and community that we strive to foster in Prince Edward County. Regardless of where you’re from, your background, or your abilities, we are bound by the belief that everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate fully in our community. So many volunteers and volunteer organizations in Prince Edward County enable us to do just that.”

Following the flag raising, a barbecue raised $250 thanks to supporters, and donations from No Frills, Metro and Picton Water.

Campaign organizers estimate the games will unite 2,500 athletes aged 13-21. All sports will offer two types of team divisions: a traditional division where all athletes on the team have an intellectual disability and a Unified division where athletes with and without an intellectual disability will compete on the same team.

Filed Under: Featured ArticlesHastings & Prince Edward District School BoardNews from Everywhere ElsePECI - It's a Panther ThingSports & Recreation

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