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Coronavirus forces cancellation of RI Special Olympics State Summer Games

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Special Olympics Rhode Island was set to kick off its annual State Summer Games in late May, but as the state cracks down on large gatherings to prevent further community spread of COVID-19, the organization made the tough decision to cancel it.

In a letter to the community, CEO of Special Olympics R.I. Dennis DeJesus said the State Summer Games and all events leading up to it are being called off out of an abundance of caution.

“We know this is a great disappointment for the entire Special Olympics Rhode Island family, but the safety of our athletes, families, coaches, volunteers and staff remains our primary concern,” DeJesus wrote. “Our events are opportunities for entire communities to come together for a wonderful cause, but unfortunately, joining together at this time can pose a risk to our athletes and our entire Special Olympics family.”

The State Summer Games, held at the University of Rhode Island, are the highlight of the year for many athletes, including Sarah LaBreche, of Woonsocket. 

“I don’t get to see my friends at practices. I don’t get to compete with other friends from my other teams,” Sarah said. “But I guess the reason they did this is to keep the athletes safe and healthy at all times.”

LaBreche is a member of “The Rhody Rangers.” Her father, who’s also the coach of the team, said the Special Olympics State Summer Games are unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

“Walking into Meade Stadium for opening ceremonies, if you haven’t done it, it gives you goosebumps,” Rick LaBreche said. “It’s disappointing as a coach not to see that thrill for athletes.”

Rick said coaches within the Special Olympics community understand the importance of canceling the event. Many of the athletes, according to Rick, have underlying health conditions, which could increase the risk for complications if they were to contract COVID-19.

“We all understand why it needed to be canceled. The health and safety of not just the athletes, but relatives, coaches, friends,” he said.

In his letter, DeJesus said he fully expects that as soon as the organization receives clearance to restart programming, they will be ready to pick up where they left off.

In the meantime, Special Olympics R.I. staff are working on ways to keep everyone in touch.

Read Dejesus’ full letter to the Special Olympics R.I. community below:

“To our athletes, families, coaches and volunteers:

“Special Olympics Rhode Island has been strongly advised by Special Olympics, Inc. to cancel all local team practices, fundraising events and program events scheduled through May 31, which includes Area Games and State Summer Games. Given the increasing spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the advice from Special Olympics Inc. in cooperation with the CDC and out of an abundance of caution, it was clear that we needed to proceed and cancel all events in April and May.

“This follows the initial precautions we took to cancel all practices, league play, state tournaments and other athlete-related activities through March 31, 2020. We know this is a great disappointment for the entire Special Olympics Rhode Island family, but the safety of our athletes, families, coaches, volunteers and staff remain our PRIMARY concern.

“Our events are opportunities for entire communities to come together for a wonderful cause, but unfortunately, joining together at this time can pose a risk to our athletes and our entire Special Olympics Family. The reports we are seeing from Special Olympics, Inc., the CDC and the State of Rhode Island indicate that it will be mid- to late-April before we have a sense of whether the social isolation strategies that have been mandated will be effective in curbing the spread of the virus.

“That doesn’t mean that the threat will be over then; just that we will have a better sense of when it might be over. In the meantime, we know that many of the facilities that we used on a state and local level have been temporarily closed.

“We fully expect that as soon as we get clearance to restart programming, everyone will be healthy and ready to roll! Special Olympics Rhode Island staff will be working on ways to keep people in touch and engaged while we all weather this situation. So, people should not worry that there will be long-term effect to our program or our ability to deliver it. We will continue to update you on what we are hearing from Special Olympics Inc., the CDC and the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“Our hope is that we will eventually be able to give a more definitive timeline for an “all-clear” and for the restart of training and programming at the state and local level.

“In the meantime, should you have any questions or concerns, please contact Dennis DeJesus at (401) 323-9277 or via email at dennis@specialolympicsri.org; Gerri Walter at (401) 527-1086 or via email at gerri@specialolympicsri.org or Chris Hopkins at (401) 829-7938 or via email at  chris@specialolympicsri.org.

“We appreciate your cooperation and understanding throughout this unprecedented circumstance. Please continue to check our website for updates on our response to the coronavirus outbreak. Most importantly, please continue to follow the guidelines set by the Rhode Island Department of Health and CDC and continue to practicing social distancing.

Together we will get through this. Stay well and please stay in touch, we are here for you.”

 Dennis DeJesus, CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island

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