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Cut short, Olympics still promise winners

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

In the spirit of the games, the cauldron was lit twice at the Special Olympics opening ceremony for the state basketball and cheerleading tournament Thursday night at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Christy Lewis, a member of the Hutchinson Reno County Hawks, was named the 2011 Gary Samuels Most Inspirational Athlete.

Because of some confusion at last year's ceremony, she didn't light the cauldron, so she was given the honor after the parade of teams.

As the 2012 most inspirational athlete, Matt Weems of the Topeka Junior Blues, lit the cauldron a second time to open the games.

The athletes entered the coliseum dressed in their team colors, but competition came second to camaraderie and friendship as they waved to one another and exchanged high fives.

Barbara Smith came to support her two grandsons, Jacob and Josh. Both have Down syndrome and are students at Hays High School. Jacob is a member of the ARC of Central Plains team.

"We come to watch the games," she said. "It's just so cool. They win all the time. Just look at that smile (on the athletes' faces). We can learn so much from them."

Katarina Rorstrom was there to see her three brothers sing the national anthem. Hans Rorstrom is a member of the High Plains Barbershop Quartet and Eric and Carl Rorstrom are in Full Chord Press.

"I know people on the (Hays ARC) basketball team. I love to watch them. They look like they're having fun," Rorstrom said.

In his welcome, Hays Mayor Troy Hickman told the athletes they already are champions.

Mark Linenberger, owner of Fanchon Ballroom, received the Bob Magerl Award for most inspirational volunteer, and led the athletes' oath.

The threat of bad weather forced some events -- including the banquet and dance today -- and Saturday's games to be canceled.

Tim Rehder, senior vice president of sports for Special Olympics of Kansas, said he made the call to end the event early rather than risk having some of the teams stranded because of weather.

Approximately 1,200 athletes were scheduled to attend.