Tribune Democrat: by Kecia Bal

Gold, silver, bronze, or participation ribbon – all awards elicited hearty congratulations for the athletes who gave their best at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games this year. 

Closing ceremonies for skiing and snowshoeing competitions, held Tuesday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, honored athletes for their efforts. The event, which marked the end of the 39th annual event, meant a roomful of shouts, high fives and handshakes for two hours of award announcements.

In the case of longtime volunteer Andrew Moschetta, the ceremony meant more hugs for longtime pals Donald Laudenslager and Ronald Nagle, both of Northampton County. The two men both landed medals – four silvers, one gold and a bronze altogether – for their entry level alpine skiing performances.

After posing for photos and stepping off a platform for athletes who placed, they rushed to Moschetta, shouting his nickname – "Pickle" – and giving a big hug. 

"Obviously, the point is to teach them life skills, including how to win, how to lose," he said. "It really gives them confidence."

Moschetta runs the event's entry-level competition and has been a coach or volunteer since the early 1990s.  

"It is competitive," he said. "The level of sportsmanship is inspiring."

Kathleen Hall, an entry-level ski coach for 15 years for the contingent that includes Harrisburg and surrounding areas, said her husband, intermediate ski coach Robert Hall, first convinced her to work with Special Olympians. The two enjoyed skiing together and now get to share that joy with athletes.

Gathering with her winners, she said it's gratifying to watch the athletes experience recognition for their training.

"You cheer them on the whole time, of course, but it's very rewarding to watch their faces when they win medals," she said.

Todday Pinkey, one of her entry level athletes, had an exhilarating first year of winter games. The competitions this week were his fourth time to try skiing – and he took home three gold medals.

He said he knew he was doing well.

"I was very confident," he said. "But I also had a lot of help."

Joseph Ray, a skier from North Huntingdon, said his two silver medals and one gold will help round out a collection he displays at home.

"I just felt really excited, really good about it the whole time," he said.

His teammate, Zack Frantz of Belle Vernon, wore three gold medals by the time alpine ski winner announcements had concluded.

"I did expect to do well, had a good feeling," he said.

For him, the best part of the games is spending time with buddies.

"It's just fun, hanging out with friends," he said.

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