MOUNT CARMEL - Saturday will mark the 20th annual Mount Carmel Celebration of Special Athletes, as well as its final incarnation guided by many of the people who created the event.

The celebration, which welcomes athletes of all abilities to the Mount Carmel Area Junior/Senior High School Silver Bowl Stadium to participate in an array of athletic events, will see a shift in management after this year due to the conclusion of the commitment agreement made by several of the original committee members.

Tara Avellino, president of the Celebration of Special Athletes Committee, said when Ron Tanney began the project, he made the five original committee members agree to serve for 20 years. Five more committee members were added a short time later under a similar agreement.

As one of those members, Avellino will be "retiring" from the committee after this year's event wraps.

"We don't know what good things will come in the future," said Avellino. "But it's going to look different."

Ron Tanney retired from his position as chairman of the committee in 2009 due to health issues.

Local event

Tanney began the Mount Carmel Celebration of Special Athletes in 1994 because he took note of the Special Olympics being held on the state and county levels and wanted to create something local for people who might not be able to play competitively, said Avellino.

"The folks who come here wouldn't have another place to participate," said Avellino. "Nobody's keeping score and nobody's competing against each other."

That anyone can join in on the day's celebration, regardless of athletic ability, is a point of pride for the celebration's committee.

"It might be the only time (participants) have the opportunity to interact with someone of different abilities," said Avellino. "It's a very nice, relaxed environment."

Athletes can participate in whichever of the available events they want to as many times as they'd like. The events are basketball, football, 50-yard run, bean bag toss, frisbee throw, softball throw, 50-yard walk, soccer kick, long jump, ring toss, fishing pond and motorcycle club.

"Coaches" monitor the events, collecting groups of athletes interested in participating and ensuring everyone is safe by monitoring health aspects like hydration.

The coaches make up a fraction of the volunteers that put together the event. Athletes pay nothing to participate and lunch is donated by local restaurants to attendees. Gift bags filled with goodies donated by area businesses are distributed to all participants, and athletes win colored ribbons for participating in each event, regardless of ability.

"They'll bring ribbons from years before," said Avellino, noting that some athletes create elaborate hats decorated with their ribbons.

While many of the participants are from Northumberland County, Avellino said the celebration draws athletes primarily from a seven-county area. A few attendees are former locals who have moved away and still return to participate and see their friends.

'Too important'

Avellino said that although the organization has a great team of volunteers, she would appreciate it if this year more people turned up just to cheer on the athletes.

Anne Bartol, a committee chairperson who also works at the Northumberland County Intellectual Disability Services department, said the involvement with volunteers, especially family members, made the hard work of pulling together the event a worthwhile experience.

"They get to see inside my world, a little bit of the people I work with and why I love my job so much," said Bartol. "We as human beings take for granted all the fun things we get to do all the time. It's a really, really beautiful experience to see it."

Bartol, who has been on the committee for seven years, will also be rotating off her official duties but plans to return in a volunteer capacity for future events.

For Avellino, the transition to a new group of committee members is emotional because of the weight she places on the event.

"We will not pass the torch lightly," said Avellino. "It's too important."

Registration for the event will start at 8:30 a.m. A parade of athletes, led by the Mount Carmel Area High School Band, will traverse the stadium beginning around 9:15 a.m., and an opening ceremony, featuring an invocation by Northumberland County Commissioner Stephen Bridy, will take place when the parade is complete, at approximately 9:30 a.m.

William Bressi, of Marion Heights, will cut the ribbon, signalling the start of the events, and Kirsten Gallagher, a member of the Mount Carmel Area Class of 2014, will perform Mariah Carey's "Hero."

Admission to the stadium is free and the event is open to the public. Refreshments are provided and donations will be accepted.