A few thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities from across Iowa will be gathering in Ames this week for the 34th annual summer games of the Special Olympics.

Games spokeswoman Stephanie Kocer says the opening ceremony will be held Thursday night at Hilton Coliseum.

“We have just over 2,800 athletes this year and 2,000 volunteers and about 1,500 coaches that come,” Kocer says. “They’re all coming to Ames and the Iowa State campus.” The competitions run through Saturday and are the highlight of the year for many hundreds of the participants.

“It’s three days of a ton of different sporting events,” Kocer says. “We have six sports: swimming, athletics — which is track and field, bocce, cycling, soccer, tennis and developmental events.” This year is a special one as the games are marking their 50th anniversary.

“We’re doing a few different things to celebrate the 50th here in Iowa,” Kocer says, “and there’s also going to be a big 50th celebration in July in Chicago, which is where the first games were held.”

Special Olympics was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968. Today it is the largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.