More than 3,000 visitors are expected to descend upon Statesboro this weekend for the Special Olympics Georgia State Fall Games. One of five statewide competitions held by the organization each year, these games may be the largest in terms of participation.
"We had more athletes register for the Fall Games than any ever," said Wendy Bigham, senior public relations manager for the Atlanta-based organization. Special Olympics Georgia provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
According to Bigham, more than 2,000 athletes are registered to compete in softball, bocce, cycling, long distance run/walk and golf.
Local hotels are busy preparing to host participants and their families. According to Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau director Jaime Riggs, families who have waited to book a hotel room are being forced to stay in Metter as all of the local hotel rooms have been reserved.
"When we originally bid for and won the games, it looked as if we would have enough rooms locally," Riggs said. "There has been an unprecedented response to these games, and they have become bigger than anyone expected. It is very exciting that people want to come to Statesboro."
Riggs said there are more than 1,100 hotel rooms in Statesboro so the economic impact of having this many visitors over the weekend is substantial. "The athletes will come Friday morning and the games will begin at 11a.m.," she said. "Most participants will spend Friday and Saturday nights. The games will conclude on Sunday. I expect that a lot of money will be spent by these visitors over the weekend."
Doug Lambert, spokesman for the new Statesboro Holiday Inn, said his hotel is completely booked.
"We will be full, and we couldn't be more excited," Lambert said. "Not only do we want our guests and their families to have a good time, we want our employees to enjoy it as well. We are going to create a festive atmosphere."
Special Olympics Georgia CEO Georgia Milton-Sheats said there are many ways that Statesboro should feel an injection into its economy.
"Volunteers and family members will be purchasing their meals at various restaurants as well as doing some general shopping," Milton-Sheats said. "Gas will be sold in large quantities in order to make the trip back home, and we will be paying staff wages such as, school kitchen employees and others as well as various officials for the games. We've had tremendous support from Statesboro and are extremely excited about the upcoming weekend."
With the exception of golf, all of the sporting events will be held at Mill Creek Regional Park where concession sales are expected to be brisk. Meals for the athletes will be provided, but accompanying family members and others that are helping with the games will have to fend for themselves. This means local restaurants should see an uptick in business.
"We are putting coupons in all of the participants welcome bags," said Mandy Edwards, one of two marketing directors for the Statesboro Chick-fil-A restaurant. "And, we are going to have the Chick-fil-A cow at Mill Creek for the games. We certainly hope to get some extra business."