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Special Olympics numbers really add up
W Sp Olympics Logo 2009
      I don't know about you, but I certainly noticed the crowds around Statesboro swell when the Georgia Special Olympics Fall Games came here two weekends ago. I asked the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Jaime Riggs just how many people came to the three day event held October 2 - 4.
      "I am comfortable in reporting that at least 5,000 and maybe as many as 6,000 participants, family, friends and support staff came for the games," Riggs said. "I can remember at one point, there was standing room only in the new Statesboro High School gym which holds 2,000. At the same time, the SHS cafeteria was full as well as every field at Mill Creek."
      Hotel operators from as far away as Port Wentworth, Claxton, Vidalia, and Glennville saw dramatic increases in the number of guests from what they would normally expect on a typical fall weekend.
      "This was a wonderful weekend for my three properties in Statesboro as well as our property in Sylvania," said Andy Bhula, owner of the La Quinta, Comfort, and Hometown Inns in Statesboro and the Days Inn in Sylvania. "On Special Olympics weekend, all of our Statesboro properties were completely booked. It was just great."
      Hoteliers weren't the only local merchants reporting a nice boost in sales. Frank Gildea, manager of Ryan's buffet restaurant on Northside Drive, said his increased sales were more than they had anticipated.
      "We had a three percent increase in our sales on the days that the Special Olympic participants were here," he said. "We really weren't planning for that much, and were so happy to be able to serve them. It was a real pleasure."
      I don't have any economic impact numbers yet, but the event was underwritten by more than 20 sponsors with the Sea Island Bank serving as the presenting sponsor, utilized over 1,000 volunteers, and served several thousand meals to participants. I would argue it was somewhat of a small economic stimulus for our community over that three day period.
      "There is no way that we could have pulled off an event of this size without the community help that we received," she said. "From the Sea Island Bank, to Ogeechee Tech, the First Baptist Church, and David Ball, everyone went above and beyond the call of duty. We are so grateful for everything that those I just mentioned and all of the volunteers did."