Five hundred athletes and coaches from across New York state are competing for gold in the New York Winter Olympics. From floor hockey to figure skating to cross-country skiing to snow shoots, athletes will compete in their sport all across the Syracuse community.

For the second year in a row, the city of Syracuse hosted the Special Olympics New York. And to kick it off, Thursday was a Night of Champions at the Oncenter in Syracuse.

“This year we decided to really celebrate some of our champions,” Stacey Hengsterman, president and CEO of Special Olympics New York, said. “Those that really helped us in the Syracuse community get this all together. We can’t do this without the volunteers, we can’t do this without the community. We can’t do this without the corporate support. Our athletes don’t pay for anything. We pick up the tab for their transportation, for their hotels, for their food, for their equipment."

The opening ceremony was held Friday evening, also at the Oncenter, and you could see the excitement from family, friends and the athletes competing.

“Patty and I always talk about it, we get more out of it than the athletes,” parent Mark McKeon said. “You volunteer, you come here, you fall in love with Special Olympics and you get involved.” 

"And looking forward to just commemorate, the competition and all the fun that’s coming out to watch, for the families coming out to watch and they’re excited,” Special Oympics Athlete Kayla McKeon said. “This is a great confidence builder to those who need more confidence and this is a way to get more athletes involved. And of course coaches like Patty and Mark who are not just my parents but they are my role models. And I couldn’t be any more prouder of my parents.” 

“We’re so thankful for the Syracuse community,” Hengsterman said. “We just feel so welcomed, so special. We get 300 volunteers from the community coming in to help us with everything from scorecards to giving out medals to setting up our floorboards for our sports. We just couldn’t do it without them so thank you once again Syracuse.” 

“This really should be the home for the winter games for the Special Olympics moving forward,” Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said. “We’re right in the middle of the state. The energy these athletes and families bring and these coaches is tremendous.” 

The Special Olympics State Winter Games will once again be held in Syracuse in 2024.