Three Athletes Win Division Gold Medals For Clarion County Special Olympics At Summer Fest State Games, Team And Coaches Enjoy A Wonderful Experience

Above photo courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions – L-R Skills Competition Athletes Kayla Reisinger, J.J. Moll, and Wesley Sweet after receiving their gold medals

The Clarion County Special Olympics basketball team competed in the Summer Fest State Games at Penn State University, which was held on Thursday, June 6th through Saturday, June 8th, with three local athletes, Kayla Reisinger, J.J. Moll and Wesley Sweet claiming Gold Medals in their Divisions in the Skills Competition.

As the name implies, the Summer Fest State Games are a big time festival. More than just sports, Special Olympics and Penn State, work very hard to make the event as enjoyable and memorable for the athletes as possible.

Photo courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions – Flag Ceremony and National Anthem at Medlar Field

The festivities began with the Delegation Parade, which wound past Beaver Stadium to Medlar Field, the Nittany Lions’ baseball field, for the Opening Ceremony.

Photo courtesy of Tanya Brooks-Walker – Clarion contingent heading past Beaver Stadium to the Opening Ceremonies

Two highlights of the ceremony were the induction of two newest members of the Pa Special Olympics Hall of Fame, Special Olympics Pennsylvania athlete Katie Spencer, from Montgomery County and Coach Lester Loner, from Lycoming County. and the lighting of the Special Olympics Flame, which was lit from the Law Enforcement Torch Run torch, which was carried in a relay Pittsburgh to State College. Both Katie and Coach Lester took part in the procession and lighting of the Caldron.

Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania – The torch procession

According to a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article by Abby Kirkland, published this morning (Thursday, June 13th): Over 500 runners representing more than 50 law enforcement teams carried the Special Olympics Flame of Hope torch 150 miles from Pittsburgh to State College for Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Summer Games.

They were cheered on and accompanied by local Special Olympics athletes, some of whom competed in the games at Penn State University on June 6-8.

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Special Olympics Pennsylvania- The lighting of the Caldron

The Special Olympics PA website shares this: The The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics Pennsylvania unites officers from law enforcement agencies and corrections departments across the state in a year-round effort to raise funds and awareness for the Special Olympics movement. The Torch Run efforts to raise funds include: collecting corporate sponsorships, coordinating third party events, and hosting unique fundraising events such the Polar Plunge, Beaver Stadium Run, Torch Runs and other fundraising events.

Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania – The Flame is burning!

Clarion Head Coach and Fundraising Coordinator, Tanya Brooks-Walker, shared about some of the special ammenities provided the athletes. “There was a “chill room” downstairs in the Intermural building with soft music, low lighting, lounge chairs, and arts and crafts for the athletes to relax and release a little anxiety.

“Olympic Village was available Friday and Saturday and included music, numerous arts and crafts, therapy dogs, and prize games for the athletes and volunteers to enjoy at their leisure.

“Friday night concluded with a dance party and ice cream social in Olympic Village.”

Larkin Richards, Special Olympics Pennsylvania Manager, Marketing and Public Relations shared, “We were honored to host the 54th annual Summer Games at Penn State University. To welcome over 1,650 athletes and 700 coaches… It was unbelievable. The energy was electric the moment everyone arrived on campus. Coaches and athletes were buzzing, eager to get out into their matchups.

“Those three days brought laughter, memories and incredible times spent with friends throughout the state, but there was intense competition. The best of the best made it to Summer Games. Each athlete was on the lookout for some gold hardware, so from day one, we knew it was going to be an incredible year for Summer Games.

Photo Courtesy of Tanya Brooks-Walker – Clarion teammates Jared Wolbert (Knox) and Ezra Brooks (Clarion) enjoying the company of sever Penn State cheerleaders during the festivities

“None of this could’ve been done without the outstanding help of Special Olympics Pennsylvania coaches and volunteers. They truly are the reason we are able to host such smooth, enjoyable events. Special Olympics Pennsylvania is dedicated to making this world a more inclusive place, and Summer Games gives us an opportunity to do so. From everyone here at Special Olympics Pennsylvania, we are so grateful for the support we received June 6 through 8.”

Clarion’s basketball team was very busy, with two six minute games on Thursday, to set up Divisions, with with the local team remaining in Division 6 and four more games, which were played on Friday and Saturday. Clarion’s record was 1-3, falling to Beaver County and Chester County and going 1-1 against Fayette County.

The results of those games were:

Game 1 vs Chester County: 17-29
Game 2 vs Beaver County: 16-35
Game 3 vs Fayette County: 29-18
Game 4 vs Fayette County: 20-23

Awards ceremony was held at the tennis court outside of the Intramural Building where all the 5v5 basketball games and skills competition took place.

Photo Courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions – Clarion County’s Jared Wolbert greets a friend and fellow athlete from Chester County

This was very exciting for Brooks-Walker, who has been involved with Special Olympics for years, but a rookie at the Summer Fest State Games. “This was my first trip to Summer Games and the first time the team has been back in 15+ years. So, for majority of the athletes this was their first experience with summer games and they represented Clarion County like the champions we know them to be!       

“The coaches have expectations of the athletes, as individuals and teammates and they are more than willing to rise to the occasion when presented with the opportunity. We treat the athletes just like we would anyone else that we would coach and they respect that.”

And about the team’s hard work and sportsmanship. “The team athletes practiced hard this season, winning the Division 6 Gold at Western Sectionals  against Fayette County and then losing the Bronze medal game against the same team! While the team was devasted, just like anyone else would be playing at that level, they displayed genuine  sportsmanship by congratulating their competitors and cheering on Beaver County to win the Gold over Philly.

Photo courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions – Coach Jimmy Smathers breaks down the team during a timeout at their game against Beaver County

“The sportsmanship that you witness in Special Olympics is like no other and it’s a humbling lesson that I wish everyone could learn!”       

Brooks-Walker had a special shout out to the Clarion Skills competition athletes. “I am so proud of our skills athletes sweeping their respective divisions with Gold Medals!! It was so emotional for everyone to see the joy on their faces and how the team rallied around them during the awards ceremony! But it is a true testament to their hard work, in and out of practice time!”

Jimmy Smathers, Basketball Team Coach had this to say, “My favorite part about Special Olympics is providing our athletes with opportunities at honest competition. No one wants to be patronized. We want to earn our win. The team who plays the best wins the game. That sentiment applies to Special Olympics just as much as anywhere else.”

Allie Brent, Skills Coach shared, “Summer Games 2024 at Penn State was a weekend to be remembered. The atmosphere on the campus was exciting, friendly, and just plain old fun! Our athletes on Team Clarion have worked hard to get to where they are today. After the cancellation of the Summer Games in 2023, their motivation was at an all time high. Their persistence and spirit are admirable and inspiring.

Photo courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions – Clarion celebrates their skills athletes after all 3 win gold in their divisions Clarion celebrates their skills athletes after all 3 win gold in their divisions L-R (Back Row) Brandon Barclay, Coach Prince Brooks, Coach Jimmy Smathers, Jordan Champion, Tyler Smith. (Middle Row) Coach Emily Brent, Coach Tanya Brooks, Bill Stout, Jared Wolbert, Brynn Beary, Coach Amy Mays, Jordan Myers. (Front Row) Ezra Brooks, Kayla Reisinger, J.J. Moll, Wesley Sweet, Coach Allie Brent, Kelsey Gruver.

“I am especially proud of our Skills Team who brought home 3 Gold medals. All of the athletes have shown incredible growth over the year and a half that I have been volunteering. I look forward to seeing what they bring to the court next season!”

SOPA Clarion Manager, Amy Maes shared, “The most meaningful part of States was watching our athletes build stronger relationships with their teammates and starting relationships with athletes from all over the state! We had some athletes that really came out of their shells over the last week and it was so fun watching their personalities shine! Watching the athletes go from strangers to each other’s biggest supporters was absolutely amazing as well and could be a lesson for everyone!”

Photo courtesy of Prince Brooks 32 1/2 Productions -Clarion and Fayette County celebrate together as close friends and friendly competitors after Clarion’s Friday afternoon win

If you would like to volunteer or have any questions about Clarion County Special Olympics/Team Clarion, contact Amy Maes – Manager at:

Special thanks from Clarion Special Olympics to the local area. “The coaches and athletes would like to extend a huge thank you to Clarion Volunteer fire department and community members for an amazing send off!!”

Photo courtesy of Tanya Brooks-Walker – Folks showing the team their support at Penn West Clarion

(Congratulations Team Clarion and all of Special Olympics Pennsylvania!!!! Thank you to all who contributed photos and quotes!!)

Clarion individual stats for all four games which were played on Friday and Saturday: