Special Olympians win smiles and accolades

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2001


PHOTO 1: MARK TUSA pushes with all his might in the bench press event at Saturday’s Louisiana Special Olympics at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. At 185 pounds, Tusa, bench pressed 315 pounds, the most that anyone has ever lifted at Louisiana Special Olympics. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) By AMY SZPARA L’Observateur HAMMOND – The campus was packed, but not with students rushing from class to class. Instead, athletes with numbers pinned to their backs were sprinkled all over Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, some competing in basketball, others in power lifting, a few in bocce and many in various racing events. The Louisiana Special Olympics Summer Games took place at the college May 18-20, and more than 1,500 athletes and coaches from cities and towns throughout the state gathered to compete. Held in New Orleans for the past 11 years, the 33rd Summer Games returned to its traditional site in Hammond. More than 2,000 volunteers helped with setup, food preparation and housing. After qualifying through local and regional contests held in the 11 Special Olympics areas in the state, the athletes were able to move on to the state games. The Summer Games included basketball, badminton, bocce, gymnastics, track and field events and power lifting. Opening ceremonies were held at Friday in Strawberry Stadium, which included the arrival of the Olympic Torch, escorted by law enforcement officers. The Torch Run relay was a 1,000-mile run in which officers around the state participated. The track and field events started early Saturday morning and included different metered walks, runs and wheelchair races. Paul Deshotel, 27, of Sulfur, who received a gold medal for the 30-meter wheelchair slalom race, where the competitors have to go around cones, said, “It wasn’t hard. I’ve been doing this for 23 years.” Mark Tusa of Metairie, who weighed in at 185 pounds, bench-pressed 315 pounds, which is the most weight ever attempted and ever bench-pressed at the Louisiana Special Olympics. “Special Smiles,” a program offered by volunteers from the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry and dentists, was also held Saturday. The athletes were screened for dental problems and offered oral hygiene instruction. “Olympic Town,” which included arcade booths with games for the participants, the Audubon Park Zoomobile, the NFL Experience and entertainment by Southeastern dance groups, was held in the Strawberry Stadium parking lot. Four Special Olympics state-level competitions are held each year, and the Summer Games is the largest event for the competitors each year.