Pirates host opening ceremonies for 'Be a Fan Torch Run' in support of Special Olympics

May 22nd, 2024

It was 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, roughly 10 hours before the Pirates were scheduled to host the San Francisco Giants in the opening game of a three-game series and six-game homestand, but PNC Park was already a festive place. Why? Because the Pirates and Pirates Charities were hosting opening ceremonies for the 13th annual “Be a Fan Torch Run” in support of Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

Among the hundreds of people filling the seats behind home plate on this sundrenched morning were Special Olympics athletes, coaches and officials as well as a strong contingent of law enforcement officers, local dignitaries -- including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey -- and sponsors. All were in attendance on the North Shore bright and early to celebrate the start of a three-day, 150-mile torch run from Pittsburgh to State College, where the 2024 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games will take place June 6-8.

More than 500 runners representing more than 50 law enforcement units in Western and Central Pennsylvania will participate in the “Be a Fan Torch Run,” and either be accompanied by or cheered on by Special Olympics athletes. The trek, which began at home plate at PNC Park on Tuesday morning, will include 53 segments, ranging in distance from 2.5 to 4 miles.

The torch is expected to arrive at Penn State University on Thursday in the late afternoon or early evening hours. The final leg of the run will take place on June 6, when the torch will be moved from the Lion Shrine to Medlar Field for the lighting of the Flame of Hope during opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games.

The Pirates and Pirates Charities have been longtime supporters of Special Olympics. In addition to hosting the kickoff of the annual torch run for the state games, Pirates Charities has donated softball equipment to the Special Olympics athletes. The Pirates also host groups of Special Olympics athletes for unique gameday experiences at PNC Park each year and provide support for the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge.

The Pirates -- including chairman Bob Nutting, president Travis Williams, and others throughout the organization -- find interactions with Special Olympic athletes rewarding.

“This group of athletes is particularly inspiring because they wake up every day with a smile on their face,” said Jacque Stevenson, executive director of Pirates Charities & community development. “They focus on the things they can do rather than the things that they can’t do. That’s what Special Olympics is about. We’re honored to be part of something like that. This a special day for the Pirates and Pirates Charities to be able to support such an amazing group.”

There are certainly many important causes in any community that individuals and businesses can choose to support. Matt Aaron, the president & CEO of Special Olympics Pennsylvania, believes the reason his organization is popular is because its story is uplifting.

“There’s nothing sad about Special Olympics,” he said. “We’re an organization that’s about joy. We bring our athletes together to train and compete. We give them that opportunity -- where many times in their lives, society has told them, ‘You have a disability. You can’t do this. You can’t try that.’

“Well, Special Olympics says, ‘Yes you can,’ and gives them a chance to show their abilities. The result is pure joy. Not just for the athletes, but for the whole community around them -- their families, their coaches, our law enforcement partners, our staff -- everyone.”

Matt Porter, chief of the Pittsburgh Port Authority, described law enforcement’s involvement with the “Be a Fan Torch Run” as a wonderful opportunity to serve the community and bond with Special Olympics athletes.

“The partnership between law enforcement and Special Olympics has grown exponentially over the years, and it’s really a win-win for both sides,” he said. “I think the general public has learned a lot from Special Olympic athletes. I know I have. They’re usually always happy and they really promote what good sportsmanship is all about. It’s the joy of competing, but it’s also the joy of the friendships they make. Through Special Olympics, you can see how much the athletes grow and prosper.”

During Tuesday morning’s ceremonies, the video board that adorns the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall at PNC Park regularly flashed the Special Olympics athlete’s oath, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Those are inspiring words and one more thing that leads people to rally around the group.

“This is a beautiful day and a special day,” Stevenson said. “We always seem to have a lot of sunshine for this day and for this special group.”