PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After two years of cancellations due to the pandemic, the Special Olympics Rhode Island State Summer Games will return to the University of Rhode Island on Saturday.  

Ahead of the games, a celebration was held at the R.I. State House, with runners representing more than 300 local police, corrections, fire, and state troopers carried the “Flame of Hope.” The torch will be brought to URI on Saturday morning to officially open the Summer Games.

The Team Rhode Island delegation competing at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando was also honored at the State House on Friday. Members participating in the USA Games will depart for Orlando on Saturday morning.

This year, more than 750 athletes will compete in athletics, bowling, cycling, powerlifting, swimming and unified soccer. According to the organization, athletes began practicing in April for the Summer Games.

Opening ceremonies will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the university, emceed by 12 News anchor Mike Montecalvo.

This year will be the last Summer Games led by President and CEO Dennis DeJesus, as well as Vice President of Programs Chris Hopkins.

DeJesus and Hopkins have known each other since the ’70s and for the last 13 years, they have worked together at Special Olympics RI. Hopkins will be stepping down after 35 years on the job, and DeJesus is retiring after 13 years in the role.

“I thought about that today when I woke up,” DeJesus said, pausing as he got emotional.

“I’ll will be thinking about that throughout the entire weekend, what these athletes mean to me, how much they inspire me, how much they motivate me, how much I care about them and how much they care about me. It’s an amazing community, the Special Olympics Rhode Island community,” DeJesus continued.

Last month, Edwin R. Pacheco was announced as the new President & CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island.

“I’m excited to carry on the amazing work that Dennis DeJesus and Special Olympics are doing here in Rhode Island,” Pacheco said in a news release last month.

Pacheco will serve as the organization’s fifth President and CEO.

DeJesus said of the Summer Games, it’s “like the Super Bowl,” for their athletes.

“This is a day where all of our community comes together, our donors, our volunteers, our athletes, our sponsors, all coming together to support the greatest athletes in the world, the athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island,” he said.