Payson has long carried the reputation of fielding some of the most accomplished athletes on the state Special Olympics scene.
Local SO officials say that tradition will most likely continue at the 2000 summer games which will kicks off at opening ceremonies May 5 in Sun Angel Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.
For the past several months a contingent of 30-plus athletes have been prepping for the games under the tutelage of SO coordinator Becky Derwort and her corps of volunteer coaches.
"We've all been working pretty hard," Derwort said.
Payson athletes have practiced in a variety of SO competitions including gymnastics, power-lifting and track and field. Many of the athletes, including David Frohme, Tim Meeske and Christine Wiley, are veterans of past Olympics, having won gold, silver and bronze medals on the state and national level.
The local team's Special Olympic experience starts at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Chapman Auto Center in Payson. There, coaches and athletes will join forces with local law enforcement officers participating in the 15th Annual Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics Arizona.
After a brief ceremony at Chapman, the Payson athletes and coaches will accompany officers to the south edge of town. The officers will continue the torch run relay style all the way to Tempe, where the run ends at Sun Angel Stadium.
The athletes will board vans for the drive to Tempe and the games.
Derwort said her charges are scheduled to attend the opening ceremonies, which will be highlighted by the officers passing on the ceremonial torch to a Special Olympic athlete who will then light the "Flame of Hope." The lighting officially begins the games.
SO officials estimate a crowd of 6,000 spectators will be on hand at the ceremonies.
Several other torch runs are also held in the state beginning in Kingman, Yuma, Page, Douglas and Safford. All culminate in Sun Angel Stadium.
More than 2,000 law enforcement personnel from over 100 agencies including state, federal, municipal and military participate in the various legs of the torch run.
The run is held each year to help raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics Arizona which provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in 23 different sports for 7,000 Arizona citizens with mental disabilities.
The public can pledge support by calling Special Olympics Arizona at (602) 230-1200.