But by the time the 4,000 delegates from across the nation had found their seats at Husky Stadium, the sun started shining on the inclusive ceremony.
The tens of thousands of fans, athletes, families, friends and coaches flocking to Seattle for this week’s Special Olympics USA Games were greeted with a little Pacific Northwest flair for the opening ceremony Sunday at Husky Stadium: rain.
But Jayme Powers, the executive director of the ceremony and chief operating officer of Special Olympics, said there was never a worry — not even as volunteers shouted for more chamoises with time ticking down until the gates opened.
By the time the 4,000 delegates (a combination of athletes, coaches and other representatives from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.) completed their winding march past cheering fans, through Alaska Airlines Arena and onto the Husky Stadium field, their chairs were dry and adorned with colorful pom-poms for the ceremony.
Seattle | July 1 – 6
Still drizzling as Team Alabama began the procession, the rain passed, clouds parted and sun started shining as Team Washington made the final entrance to the soundtrack of American Idol winner Maddie Poppe.
“We really wanted a Northwest feel,” Powers said. “Really authentic, right?”
You can only plan so much, and the moisture ended up as just an added touch. Northwest artists Allen Stone and Ann Wilson of Heart complemented performances by DJ Marshmello, pop star Charlie Puth and master of ceremonies Taye Diggs. Sonics legend Gary Payton gave out bear hugs on stage. Seahawks Hall-of-Famer Walter Jones introduced the Coast Salish People’s dance to bless and celebrate the Games. The backdrop to all of it? Two thousand live miniature Douglas fir trees.
For many folks’ first times in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, it was an apt welcome. Swaths of family and friends followed their athletes across the country.
Some contingents, such as Cecily Anderson’s from Maryland, were as large as 200-plus. The mother of Calvin, and Team Maryland’s basketball’s effective team mom, designed custom shirts for her son, all of his teammates and their parents.
Others were acts of sheer perseverance. One grandfather’s trek took him from upstate New York, to Boston’s Logan Airport before finally arriving in the wee hours of Friday morning in a rundown bed-and-breakfast.
“But at least I had a roof over my head,” he said, and a chance to watch his grandson compete on the national stage.
The 18-person Ziegler clan, clad in their own custom shirts, escaped the 95-degree heat of Wisconsin to cheer on Caleb, who’s competing in bowling.
All were greeted with a singular message: inclusion — and Washington state’s history of it, as Governor Jay Inslee pointed out in his remarks as the ceremony’s opening speaker.
“Washington has a long history of inclusivity and tolerance for all people,” Inslee said. “The movement started 50 years ago by Eunice Kennedy Shriver embodies that spirit.
“We know we need to do everything we can to fight back against the dark forces of discrimination and fear. … We can look forward as a nation, starting at these Games, to becoming more inclusive, more tolerant.”
Special Olympics CEO Timothy Shriver echoed Inslee in referencing the current climate.
“I’m asking you to show the world what it looks like to lead from the heart,” Shriver said, addressing the athletes. “We are living in a country that needs you right now, and we are here to take a stand for a different America.”
Just like the rain, if not planned, the political undertones added just another quintessential Northwest tie-in to a Games already full of them.