The athletes of the Grove City Area Special Olympics team are geared for the state competition this weekend.

The athletes of the Grove City Area Special Olympics team are geared for the state competition this weekend.

The 2008 Special Olympics State Summer Games will be held Friday through Sunday at Ohio State University, Sawmill Lanes and United Skates of America in Columbus.

"It's the highlight of the year," said Charlie Lippert, co-coordinator for the Grove City team. "One of my favorite parts is the opening ceremony."

According to information on the event's Web site, the Summer Games will kick off Friday, June 27, at 6:30 p.m. with the opening ceremonies at Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

Opening ceremonies will include nearly all 2,700 athletes, a parade of athletes and the lighting of the "Flame of Hope," which burns throughout the games.

The flame will be lit as law enforcement officials from throughout the state unite at the stadium after traveling through the week from all four corners of Ohio.

Live entertainment will also be a part of the celebration.

"It's a really heartwarming experience," Lippert said.

This year the Grove City chapter of the Special Olympics is sending 27 athletes to the state games, 15 bowlers and 12 track and field participants.

"It's probably one of our biggest contingents yet," Lippert said.

Registration for the games can cost about $250 for each athlete, but through fundraising from the local VFW, Elks Lodge, Masons and Knights of Columbus organizations, the fee comes to about $1,000 for the team, Lippert said.

Athletes and coaches will get to stay in the dorms on the Ohio State campus during the weekend-long event.

Chris Wernert, a 23-year-old Grove City athlete, said he prepared for the games by lifting weights and running on the treadmill.

Wernert, who's been participating for about six years, will be running the 4-by-100 meter relay, the 100-meter dash and the softball throw.

"He can really throw the softball," Lippert said of Wernert.

Wernert said he expects to get a gold medal in at least one event.

"Hopefully all three of my events," he added.

He knows his biggest competitors are coming from Tuscarawas County.

"They're my main concern," he said.

Whether he wins big or not, it doesn't' matter; the games are all about having fun.

"It's not whether you win; it's how you play the game," Lippert said.