Maryland makes 1999 Games pitch


COLLEGE PARK -- The state of Maryland could get to celebrate a worldwide homecoming.

Showcasing itself as the birthplace of the Special Olympics movement, Maryland looks to stand apart from the other competing cities -- Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Athens, Greece; and Melbourne, Australia -- to host the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

In Rockville, Eunice Shriver began the Special Olympics movement in 1963. With Special Olympics commemorating its 30-year history of competition and 10th anniversary of its summer games in 1999, Special Olympics International officials said Maryland's historical connection makes it unique.

"When you look at Maryland as a site, you can't help but think of what Mrs. Shriver did here," said Charlie Greene, the summer sports director of SOI. "It would be extremely fitting to come back home in 1999. But all I can say is that Maryland is strongly in the running."

In March, the SOI and the World Games committees will give their recommendations for the final site to the Board of Special Olympics. That final decision will be announced in late spring.

"We want to put on a sports extravaganza," Greene said. "There is a strong sense of a 'can-do' attitude and think Maryland would be a great site."

One of the factors that favors Maryland is the quality and quantity of facilities.

Maryland proposes to use Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the site for the opening ceremonies and Byrd Stadium as the venue for the closing ceremonies.

"One of our major criteria is the area of facilities," said Will Hoehndorf, the director of international programs for SOI. "We need different types of facilities for 19 different sports."

Although all four contending cities are first-time entries, Athens and Melbourne are tempting because the majority of the Special Olympics World Games have occurred in the United States.

"We really do want to move the games abroad," said Kathinka Tunney, chairperson of the World Games committee. "But the games are a big undertaking, and the U.S. was really the only nation in the past that could handle the activity."

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