CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Athletes, coaches and volunteers kicked off the 49th Special Olympics Maine Winter Games on Monday at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort.

The noon ceremonies included an enthusiastic welcome for the statewide teams of athletes and their coaches. Executive Director Lisa Bird also welcomed state officials and local leaders, who help ensure that the annual event is a success.

Many of the more than 450 athletes and 300 volunteers arrived Sunday for one of Maine’s largest community suppers. Each year, residents of Carrabassett Valley and other western Maine communities manage to get casseroles and desserts from volunteer cooks to the base lodge, with enough food to serve 800 people.

They also volunteer to clean up, along with Sugarloaf staffers, after dinner and lunch each day, while athletes enjoy skating, hot chocolate, karaoke and a sing-along.

Housing for the athletes and coaches is always a challenge, but most stay at condominiums, camps and homes of local residents. The three-day event is the culmination of months of athletic training and statewide competitions for adults and young people with intellectual disabilities.

The first event was held in Gorham in 1969, with a only a few athletes and volunteers. Today, the nearly half-century of hard work and dedication has produced dedicated teams of participants who enjoy the three days of outdoor activities.

As the ceremonies were beginning outside, volunteer Nancy Raymond of Glenburn handed out the purple, gray and black handmade scarves, hats, mittens and headbands inside. The brightly colored items were knitted by volunteers who send them each year from around the country. Sometimes participants don’t have the warm accessories, have lost or even forgotten them.

Raymond meets and greets volunteers and athletes who have now become old friends. She said she would not think of missing the annual event.

“I’ve been volunteering for 35 years,” she said. “I just enjoy seeing how much this means to everyone.”

Matt Barnham, an Alpine skier from Boothbay, and Tom Stanton of the Brunswick Police Department lit the ceremonial torch, and Portland athlete Paul Samberg sang the national anthem. Gathered inside the base lodge for lunch were the 10 members of the Sunrise Blizzard team from Calais. Athlete Linda Curtin said she started with ski competitions five years ago. Three years ago, she decided to switch to the snowshoeing competitions, and she was pleased with her time trials on Monday morning.

“I came in second,” she said with a smile.

Curtin also said she was looking forward to Monday evening, including a torchlight parade, a victory dance and fireworks.

Dave Morin of Lewiston was one of many volunteers serving the traditional potluck supper Sunday night. Dozens of casseroles, salads and desserts are made and delivered by area residents.

“We made 750 bag lunches today,” he said. “We also do all the cleanup, along with the Sugarloaf staff.”

During the day, members of Jay Amvets Post 33 served homemade corn chowder and burgers to athletes. Members Jerry Persson, Gerry Toothaker and Gary DesJardin estimated they would give at least 500 snowmobile rides before the day ended. The snowmobile clubs volunteer their machines and provide the helmets for riders. Toothaker said he had been volunteering about 35 years.

“We just enjoy the warmth from the people we meet,” he said.

The alpine skiers compete in regular and giant slalom trials and in dual ski trials. Other athletes competed in Nordic skiing and speed skating.

Athletes at the 49th Special Olympics Maine Winter Games joined the Monday noon welcome ceremony at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort’s base lodge in Carrabassett Valley. The games brought over 1,000 participants from across the state to the annual celebration.

Members of Jay Amvets Post 33 give snowmobile rides at the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Carrabassett Valley on Monday. Volunteers Jerry Persson, Gerry Toothaker and Gary DesJardin estimated they would give at least 500 rides before the day ended. (Valerie Tucker photo)

Alpine skier Matt Barnham of Boothbay and Tom Stanton of the Brunswick Police Department lit the ceremonial torch at the 49th Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley on Monday. (Valerie Tucker photo)

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