Special Olympics kicked off an extra special 50th opening ceremony Wednesday evening in Traverse City.

More than 1,200 athletes, coaches, family, supporters and community members were on hand at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa to join in on the celebration. The event is presented by Wertz Warriors, a group of snowmobile enthusiasts founded by former Detroit Tigers great Vic Wertz, that raises money to help offset the cost of the State Winter Games.

During the ceremony, the Wertz Warriors presented a check to Special Olympics Michigan for $285-thousand dollars.

Since 1982, the group has raised more than $11-million dollars. Special Olympics Michigan athlete Jim Bernard from Midland was named the Rick VanderSloot Winter Sports Award Winner during the ceremony and received an honorary Wertz Warriors jacket. Bernard has been a SOMI athlete for more than 40 years.

The ceremony concluded with the founder of the State Winter Games, Dr. Roger Coles, light the flame of hope to signify the official start of the Games.

The event was emceed by Michelle Dunaway from 9&10 News and WZZM 13's Juliet Drago's was there as well.

Earlier in the day, nearly 900 athletes competed in six different sports including snowshoe, speed skating, figure skating, alpine skiing, cross country skiing and snowboard.

Competition runs from 8:15 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Thursday, then concludes on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

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