WATERVILLE VALLEY - The 38th annual Special Olympics New Hampshire Winter Games - boasting a record number of competitors in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing - begin here Sunday evening with a ceremony that includes a State Police helicopter flyover, fireworks and the arrival of the Olympic flame by snowmobile.
Waterville Valley's town square will be the scene for the opening ceremony, with the competitions set to take place March 3 and 4 in and around the square, as well as at Waterville Valley Resort, a short distance away.
The 2014 games will feature 362 athletes - the most, according to SONH, since the organization's founding in 1977, and an increase of 51 athletes since last year. First held at the Eastman Resort in Grantham, the Winter Games moved to Bretton Woods in 1980 before taking up permanent residence at Waterville Valley in 1995.
"Our athletes train hard and look forward to the Winter Games every year," said Mary Conroy, president of Special Olympics New Hampshire. "Prior to the state Winter Games, athletes competed against each other at the regional level, and now they get to take it to the state level and compete against all athletes within New Hampshire."
Amy Petri, SONH's director of programs, said while the Winter Games are about competition, "the athletes like to have fun and socialize as well."
They'll be able to do that Monday during a dinner and dance for which they selected the theme: jungle.
Matters will be more serious during an Athlete-Input Council meeting. During the meeting, which is run by and for the athletes, participants will be able to discuss how to make the Winter Games even better in the future.
Petri thanked the Waterville Valley Resort for again hosting the Winter Games and the Town of Waterville Valley for embracing both the Games and the athletes.
Also singled out for thanks by the SONH were the men and women of New Hampshire's law-enforcement agencies, some 40 of whom will volunteer their time at the Winter Games to cheer on the athletes and to present them with their medals.
Sunday's opening ceremony commences with a procession of police vehicles that will then line the road leading into Waterville Square, which the athletes will later enter.
After the parade of athletes, there will be a presentation of the colors by the New Hampshire State Police Color Guard. Manchester Special Olympian Justin Paine will perform the national anthem, and the Rev. Robert Smolley will deliver the invocation.
Several dignitaries will make remarks, which will be followed by the recitation of the Special Olympics Oath, led by Nathan Torrey of the Connecticut River Valley Team. The Special Olympics Torch will then arrive and John Beers, also of the Connecticut River Valley Team, will light the Winter Games cauldron.
Bob Cormier, chief of the Tilton Police Department and director of the state Law Enforcement Torch Run, will deliver the opening declaration, and moments later, the NH State Police helicopter will fly overhead with a display of fireworks closely behind.
The SONH Winter Games are open to the public.