CARRABASSETT VALLEY — The 32nd annual Special Olympics Maine Winter Games opened Monday at Sugarloaf where crisp winds and blowing snow greeted the nearly 1,000 athletes and volunteers.

“Energy, enthusiasm, everything is on track,” Lisa Bird, public relations worker for Special Olympics Maine, said after the noon torchlighting ceremony.

More than 400 athletes participated in timed trial events at Sugarloaf Mountain, Carrabassett Valley Academy and Sugarloaf Outdoor Center. High winds closed the lifts in the morning, so snowcats hauled skiers part way up the mountain for their slalom trials.

Teams from schools and work programs around the state gathered at noon for the Parade of Athletes and the opening ceremony. Former athlete Jerry Bourget, now a volunteer and snowshoe official for the games this year, stood on tiptoes to light the huge torch as athletes and volunteers cheered. The torch will remain lit until closing ceremonies at noon Tuesday.

Michael Feldman, Special Olympics Maine board chairman, told athletes that the more than 500 volunteers are inspired by the competitors’ determination and sportsmanship.

Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota and Sugarloaf President John Diller welcomed the athletes.

“This snow is love covering all of you,” the Rev. Pamela Morse of Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry said. She went encouraged the athletes to be happy if they won and good sports if they didn’t.

Members of the Maine Warden Service and other law enforcement agencies served as volunteers and supporters. Students from Mt. Blue High School and Mt. Abram High School also volunteered for the games.

At Carrabassett Valley Academy, snowshoers sprinted 25, 50 or 100 meters. The time trials had three to six participants, Michael Baribeau, a member of the board of directors, said. 

Serving as a starter for the snowshoe trials for the past 15 years, Baribeau cheered the contestants on. On Tuesday, they’ll be grouped by their times for the trials, he said.

Welcoming a group from Waterville, Special Olympics Maine board member and snowshoe director Scott Gregory asked them what’s the first rule of the games.

“Have fun,” one shouted.

“That’s right: Have fun,” Gregory echoed.

The games are about participating and trying your hardest, Olympic gold medal snowboarding champion Seth Wescott told the athletes.

At the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, athletes circled the speedskating track. After finishing eight laps, Kelsey Tripp, a junior at Hampden Academy, said it was fun but cold. She said she plans to participate in swimming at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games in New Jersey this summer.

The athletes were honored at a banquet Monday night, followed by a torchlight parade, fireworks an dance or movie, Bird said.

The Winter Games were started by Melvin “Mickey” Boutilier, a special education teacher at Pineland in New Gloucester and at Gorham. He passed away in December 2012.

After taking students to Chicago in 1968 to compete in the first Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he started the first Maine games in Portland. He founded the first Special Olympics Winter Games in the world, Bird previously said. They are now held all over the world.

Nearly 1,500 athletes attend the Summer Games in Orono and close to 500 skiers, skaters and snowshoers at the Winter Games at Sugarloaf.

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