Laurel Police Department takes part in Torch Run for Special Olympics

By Tony E. Windsor

For over 30 years law enforcement from throughout Delaware have joined together to carry off what is now a sacred trek across the state known as the "Delaware Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics."

On June 7, officers with the Laurel Police Department joined more than 500 law enforcement officers from agencies throughout Delaware carrying the symbolic lighted "Flame of Hope" torch 160 miles from southern Delaware to Newark. The law enforcement campaign is a three-day mission to bring awareness and raise money for the annual Special Olympics games held at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center in Newark. This year's event, representing the 49th anniversary of Special Olympics of Delaware, was held on June 14 and 15.

According to the Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) website, the first Special Olympics athletic competition in Delaware was a track & field meet held on June 5, 1971, at the old Wilmington High School. Nearly 100 athletes participated. Today, the organization has grown to more than 4,200 athletes and 500 coaches participating in 19 sports.

According to SODE, "Special Olympics Delaware has been changing the lives of Delawareans since 1971. Through sports training and competition in 20 sports, more than 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities have proven that, given the chance, no disability is too great to overcome."

The Law Enforcement Special Olympics (LESO) was organized in Delaware in 1986. In 1987, the first "Delaware Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics" was held to kick off that year's Summer Games. According to LESO state director, retired State Police Captain Greg Nolt, Law Enforcement events, including the Torch Run, have raised over $7 million for Special Olympics Delaware since 1986; $755,000 just last year. Nolt has been involved with the LESO since 1987.

Nolt, current director of the Delaware Division of Gaming Enforcement who heads up the annual Torch Run, said seeing the culmination of the effort as it makes its way into the opening of the Summer Games is nothing less than amazing. "It is a wonderful sight to see," he said. "Seeing the faces of the athletes light up as the torch comes in and the pipes and drums play is just extraordinary. Once you go, you always come back because it's all about the athletes."

The annual Torch Run starts on Wednesday evening with a ceremony held in Rehoboth Beach. The torch then travels to Delaware State Police Troop 7 in Lewes and ends in Georgetown.

Meanwhile, on Thursday a second leg of the Torch Run opens in Delmar and travels north along US 13 to Laurel, Seaford, Bridgeville and Greenwood.

The two legs of the Torch Run join at Harrington and the entourage of law enforcement officers travels north to Legislative Hall in Dover for a state ceremony.

It is then on to Troop 9 in Wilmington and on Friday the Torch Run culminates in a ceremony at the University of Delaware where the Summer Games commence.

Another former state trooper, retired Capt. John Miller, preceded Nolt as state director of Law Enforcement Special Olympics and has been involved with the organization since its inception.

Miller has a passion for the role that the men and women in law enforcement play in supporting Special Olympics Delaware. In an interview in 2016 by writer Jon Buzby, Miller, who was being honored by Special Olympics Delaware, expressed what the Torch Run means to the state.

"Since 1994, Delaware Torch Run has set the standard for the 'Flame of Hope,' keeping it lit during the entire 160-mile journey of the Torch Run," Miller explained. "The men and women of Delaware law enforcement work and live with the Special Olympics athletes in every city, town and community in the great state of Delaware. This grassroots nature of the Torch Run and Special Olympics Delaware helped fuel the initial success of the Torch Run. Today, at its core, Delaware law enforcement for Special Olympics remains an amazing grassroots success story and true phenomenon."

Law enforcement's involvement in promoting awareness and fundraising for Special Olympics Delaware is significant. According to SODE, the efforts by law enforcement across the state have "enabled us to reach more athletes, offer them more sports, and provide them with opportunities that otherwise would not be as easily implemented.

The organization's dynamic and ever-growing relationship with law enforcement has to be considered one of the greatest achievements of the Special Olympics movement."

Miller said it is not only the Special Olympics that benefits from law enforcement's efforts. "The impact of the LESO partnership with Special Olympics Delaware is many things, at many levels," he said. "It's hugely successful, subtle, engaging and enlightening, heartwarming, completely satisfying and rewarding, and far reaching. People talk about the wonderful impact that uniformed police officers have on the athletes when they present medals, but the real impact is on the police officers, our athletes' families and all of our communities and schools."

For more information about Special Olympics Delaware or Law Enforcement Special Olympics, visit www.sode.org.

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