Nebraska will make history this summer by hosting the largest sporting event ever held in our state. We have been honored to host the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games, July 18-23 in Lincoln. The week-long event showcases the Special Olympics movement with 13 sporting competitions and programs in health, wellness and education. Nearly 3,000 athletes, 1,000 coaches and 15,000 friends and family members will come to Nebraska to celebrate the achievements of athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The USA National Special Olympics occurs only every four years. This year, the spotlight will be on Nebraska. We are fortunate to have this unique opportunity to set the national stage upon which thousands of athletes will compete this month.
I am very proud of the outstanding support Nebraskans have shown already. There has been an extraordinary outpouring of support from Nebraska companies, organizations and individuals across the state that are sponsoring the Games and have contributed financially.
Nebraska companies have pledged countless volunteer hours. More than 100 companies have pledged nearly 7,500 paid days off for employees so they can volunteer at the Games. Thousands of individuals throughout the state have volunteered on their own as well, which is invaluable in meeting and exceeding the 8,000 volunteers needed during the Games. This kind of generosity and support is special. It shows the giving, warmhearted character of Nebraskans that our visitors will recognize and appreciate.
Several State Agencies have also been involved with efforts surrounding the Special Olympics. In particular, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska State Patrol, and the Travel and Tourism Division at Department of Economic Development are all actively involved in assisting with the games in a variety of ways.
The Department of Health and Human Services is working to ensure that individuals from the Beatrice State Developmental Center (BSDC) will be in the stands cheering on all the Special Olympics athletes from across the nation. On a very special note, the BSDC Choir will sing the National Anthem when the torch runners stop briefly in Beatrice, and BSDC athletes will walk along the route with law enforcement officers.
The State Patrol is joining its law enforcement counterparts in providing a safe and secure environment for the athletes, coaches, their families and the public taking part in this world class event. During the games, the State Patrol will take part in one of the world's largest civilian airlifts. Troopers will provide traffic control for the thousands of athletes and coaches arriving every 90 seconds via private jets at Lincoln's airfield.
The Department of Economic Development's Travel and Tourism Division is also actively involved. During the games, they will host an activity booth at Pershing Auditorium for athletes, their families, and the general public. Attendees can have their photos taken with a cutout of Tyler, Tourism's cartoon mascot that helps educate Nebraska school children about our state, visit the coloring pages station, and learn more about Nebraska. Athletes and their families will receive welcome bags containing 2010 Nebraska Travel Guides, and other goodies for the families to enjoy.
The generosity and support that all Nebraskans have contributed to the Games will be returned in many ways. The economic impact the Games will have on Nebraska will be exceptional. As thousands of athletes, fans, family members and friends visit Nebraska this summer, they will take advantage of our wonderful attractions, hotels and restaurants. The Games are expected to have a $40 million economic impact in our state. Even more significant are the ways Nebraskans will be changed as a whole in witnessing the true abilities, courage and strength of people with intellectual disabilities.
The Games will touch the entire state of Nebraska. Law enforcement officials from across the nation will run the "Flame of Hope" throughout 70 Nebraska communities to kick off the Games. The final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, comprised of law enforcement officers, Special Olympics athletes and support team members, will increase awareness for Special Olympics throughout our state. The torch will be brought to the Opening Ceremony in Lincoln on July 18.
I hope in some way you are taking part in this extraordinary event this summer. Whether you donate, volunteer or are a fan in the stands, you will be helping make history in Nebraska. The Games are only a week-long event, but people's lives will be changed forever.