Flag football game during the 2014 USA Games. Credit: John Huet
When thousands of dedicated athletes and the thrill of competition roll into Seattle this summer, you should be there. From July 1–6, families in the Puget Sound area have the opportunity to become super-fans, support athletes and watch the action at the Special Olympics USA Games. And bonus, it's nearly all free.
During the Seattle Games, more than 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will compete in 14 sports. Athletes compete in traditional sports such as track and field (called "athletics"), soccer, gymnastics and swimming, plus less-typical sports such as stand-up paddle boarding and bocce.
Matches and competitions take place at venues all around Seattle and all are free and open to the public. And you should attend. Organizers of the Games have a goal to show support for the competitors — a 4:1 ratio of fans to athletes, according to Jaymelina Esmele, director of communications for the Games.
That means lots of fans are needed! But while you can feel great cheering on athletes in a national competition, there's something in it for spectators, too. Everyone, especially kids, can benefit from seeing up-close what Beth Knox, president and CEO of the Games, calls "the ideals of inclusion and acceptance through sport."
We've picked out five great events for families to attend, and you can see the full schedule of events and all competition times and venues at the Games website.
The Games' opening ceremony is not free but in addition to the parade of athletes, there will be plenty of entertainment and fanfare for families to enjoy. Actor Taye Diggs will emcee, and performers include local rock legend Ann Wilson of Heart and local dance crew Massive Monkees, plus Marshmello, Charlie Puth and an enormous choir.
Details: Opening Ceremony at Husky Stadium, Sunday, July 1, 12:30–3 p.m. (gates open 11 a.m.); tickets $20/adult, $12/youth ages 3–17, ages 2 and under free. Buy tickets online.
The Young Athletes Festival, taking place on three dates, invites kids ages 2–7, both with and without intellectual disabilities, to try out fun sports skills such as running, throwing and kicking. The idea is to share the spread the joy of learning and participating in sports and for kids of all abilities to participate together. A parent or guardian must accompany children and pre-registration is available, but not required.
Details: Monday–Tuesday, July 2–3, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at Seattle Center by the International Fountain; Thursday, July 5, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the University of Washington on the IMA front lawn.
Tons and tons of Northwest kids play soccer, so this is a great sport to watch. Plus here you'll see U.S. players in action to complement the international competition you might be watching in the World Cup. Matches take place over four days in different divisions playing 7 v. 7 and 5 v. 5. Teams include both men and women. Seattle University hosts the soccer competition, at Championship Field and SU Park. All matches are free and open to the public.
Details: Soccer matches take place at Seattle University fields Monday–Tuesday, July 2–3, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Wednesday, July 4, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; and Thursday, July 5, 9 a.m.–2:40 p.m. with awards ceremonies following Thursday's conclusion of play.
4. More sports!
Take your kids to watch a sport they're interested in or choose a venue or location that suits your crew. Here are some highlights:
- A great spectator opportunity is swimming, taking place July 2–6 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
- Gymnastics also provides an indoor spectating opportunity. Gymnasts compete July 3–5, with the events taking placing mostly in the morning at Seattle Pacific University.
- Track and Field competition, called "athletics" in international sport, occurs at the Husky track July 2–6 (mornings). Fun fact: The Husky track is purple!
- Head to Angle Lake in SeaTac to watch stand-up paddle-boarding, July 2–3 (mornings).
- Kenmore Lanes hosts the Games' bowling competition July 2–5 (mornings).
- Flag Football, with male and female players, takes place July 2–5 at the University of Washington.
Check online for all sports schedules, including tennis, powerlifting, softball, golf, bocce and more! Click on the website and select the "schedules" drop-down for all the options.
If your kids' interests skew more toward gaming vs. athletic pursuits, the Games and Microsft have teamed up for the Special Olympics' first-ever video game competition. Eight unitifed teams — that means a team consisting of one player with and one player without intellectual disabilities — will play Forza Motorsport 7 in tournament play. Competition takes place Monday, July 2, 1–4 p.m. in the Lyceum room of the HUB on the University of Washington campus. Spectating is free and open to the public.
Celebrate the Games' athletes and their efforts at a free party in the park to include Seattle band Hey Marseilles, street performers, food truck fare (available for purchase) and a short program. The Closing Ceremony takes place Friday, July 6, at 7 p.m. at Seattle's Lake Union Park. The event is free and open to the public.