The first Saturday in May brought beautiful weather to the Stateline as Harlem High School hosted the Special Olympics of Illinois' Spring Games, bringing hundreds of athletes to Machesney Park. It was a big day to celebrate the Games' spirit of inclusion.
9:00 in the morning, the parade brought smiles, standing ovations, and a run of the torch from local law enforcement.
"I see that in my own daughters' eyes, and my own daughters' smile."
Rockford Police assistant deputy chief Mike Dalke's daughter has Down syndrome, and is mindful of what Special Olympics can do.
"Trying to make their lives better and give them opportunities they might not have."
Dalke issued the Games as open before doves flew into the crisp Spring air, kicking off sessions of soccer, softball toss, javelin, shot put, and various track races.
"We're so thankful to Harlem High School for hosting us," said Special Olympics of Illinois assistant communications director Alexandra McMillin. "There are over 700 athletes competing today, it's pretty incredible.
There are many teams, but they all stand together.
"It makes me feel like I'm not alone and I don't just have my Belvidere team, I have the entire state of Illinois cheering us on," said NASR Belvidere Special Olympian Crystal Davis.
"It's eye-opening for the volunteers," said Guilford Special Olympics coach Megan Guthrie, who is in her eighth year as a coach for her athletes.
"The smile on their faces is priceless. They feel like they're part of the school community and part of a team."