With the sun setting against a picturesque blue sky, it was the perfect evening for a baseball game. But, the athletes on Parkview Field were not baseball players, and many were not from Fort Wayne.
“If I may say, hello to the world,” said Tom Trent, master of ceremonies at Tuesday's welcome event for the 2019 Goalball and Judo Paralympic Qualifier.
And he was truly speaking to the world. Nearly 600 athletes, coaches and officials from almost 40 countries sat in the stands and met his greeting with a thunderstorm of applause.
The qualifying event is the next step for the athletes to go to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Mark Lucas, president of the United States Association of Blind Athletes, said there are more than 200 judo athletes, and 14 men's goalball teams and 13 women's teams playing to advance on to Tokyo.
The ceremony included performances by Voices of Unity Youth Choir and Sweetwater All Stars band, and numerous speeches by city and international officials.
Each speaker, however, was sure to never lose sight of the reason for the festivities.
“We all know this is not because of all of us giving speeches tonight; it's because of all of the volunteers, coaches, officials who made this possible,” said Jannie Hammershoi, IBSA president.
“And last but not least, dear athletes: Without trying to fulfill your dreams through sport, none of us would be here.”
John Renz and Allie Ellis, local attendees, echoed the same sentiment.
“I'm here because I want to support Turnstone,” Ellis said.
The two, along with Sarah Aubrey, have friends who work at Turnstone and were there in support.
According to its website, Turnstone is northeast Indiana's “only free-standing not-for-profit organization providing a comprehensive continuum of supportive services addressing the unique needs of people with disabilities and their families.”
Other keynote speakers were Katie Baker from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell and a representative for U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, among others.
Cindy Joyner, Fort Wayne director of community development, also carried a message from Mayor Tom Henry proclaiming International Blind Sports Week in Fort Wayne.
Lucas posed the age-old question of what exactly a Hoosier is, and later gave the answer: “Some of the nicest people in the entire world,” something he said the athletes will experience through Hoosier hospitality.
Judo and goalball events, held at Grand Wayne Center, Turnstone and Indiana Tech will continue until July 9.