This year, the Special Olympics Maine State Summer Games will be a virtual event over two days in June. Staff file photo

The Special Olympics Maine State Summer Games will be a two-day virtual event this year, with competitions in track and field, bocce and candlepin bowling.

The annual event, which is typically held at the University of Maine in Orono and attracts 1,500 competitors and another 1,500 coaches, volunteers and spectators, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Summer Games will be held on June 10-11 and will include opening and closing ceremonies, the popular Olympic Village and, on June 11, a virtual victory dance.

Lisa Bird, the director of public relations for Special Olympics Maine, said Thursday that the organization waited as long as possible to make the decision to go virtual this year.

“It has been heartbreaking ever since last March to constantly have to be telling our amazing athletes that another event has been canceled, that another thing they’ve been looking forward to or training for all year is not happening,” Bird said. “To hear the sadness in their voices and to know how disappointed they are, it’s been heartbreaking. We have tried so hard to be as creative as possible and think outside the box.”

Bird said Special Olympics Maine has had virtual events going on every week: training sessions, sports challenges, cooking classes or talent shows. Typically, she said, they have 75 events a year.

“We’ve had virtual hula hoop lessons and juggling lessons,” she said. “We have over 5,000 athletes in our programs, we’re in every community in the state. The idea of canceling or changing the Summer Games again was difficult. But our athletes have been resilient and they showed us early on they still want to be part of Special Olympics.”

Bird said that Special Olympics Maine just completed its virtual basketball season and is in the middle of its virtual swimming season.

Athletes for the Summer Games will have the opportunity to meet in groups of 10, including their coaches, to train for the required six weeks, then submit their times and videos. Track and field, bocce and candlepin bowling are their most popular events in the summer. Bird said one advantage to having a virtual bowling tournament is that the athletes can bowl at their local bowling alleys.

“There were so many things we had to take into consideration,” Bird said. “We need to follow our state guidelines. It’s important everyone does so we can get through this as quickly as possible. And we need to keep our athletes as safe as possible. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

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