Newark, NJ - An estimated 10,000 people descended on Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday to experience Airport Day with fun and games all to benefit more than 26,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the Special Olympics New Jersey program. 

The highlight of the day was 23rd Annual Plane Pull Competition, in which 48 teams from around the state pulled on gloves and used their strength to tug a rope attached to an 84,000-pound Boeing 737. The aircraft seats 148 passengers and stretches 110-feet long.

Each team of all ages competed twice for fastest pull over 12 feet and lowest combined weight, or pulling the plane 12 feet with the least amount of people in two minutes. Trophies were awarded to highest fundraising teams and individuals. The top three teams each raised over $10,000. Fairfield’s Finest, for example, raised nearly $15,000.

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The cost for each team to enter was $1,400, and the event had raised $143,000 by Saturday afternoon, with additional funds expected from raffles and late donors.

“It’s a great event, it’s a great turnout today with the weather too...these guys do such a great job with these kids and Special Olympics events,” said Thomas Bock, manager of operations for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “It’s really nice to see that people come out and support them and help them do what they do.” 

Airport Day, a partnership between United Airlines, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New Jersey State Law Enforcement Torch Run, also offered airport concessionaires, food vendors, kids’ games and entertainment. Guests could also tour an aircraft and ride in an airport de-icer.

Sue Parsons, Special Olympics New Jersey law enforcement operations manager, said the fundraiser allows athletes to train and compete at no cost with certified coaches.

Parsons said the 23rd annual event had the most teams than ever before, with 48 showing up.

“We have teams from all walks of life,” she said, easing off the pressure to ensure unified teams because most teams consisted of Special Olympics athletes anyway. 

Unified Sports join people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle of training and practicing together to establish friendship and understanding.

Keenen Rogers, Carnegie Shield team captain, said the Plane Pull “was overall a great experience.”

Rogers said the pull necessitated a lot of strategy, like ensuring team members were evenly spaced out and held the rope straight.

Teams included law enforcement officials, Special Olympics New Jersey coaches and athletes, business professionals, fraternities and fitness organizations.

Special Olympics New Jersey offers athletes the opportunity to participate in 24 year-round  Olympic-type sports with program initiatives like Unified Sports, Athlete Leadership, Young Athletes and Camp Shriver. For more information about Special Olympics New Jersey, visit www.sonj.org.

Upcoming events sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run are the Bike SONJ: Ride for Inclusion on Oct. 26, a cycling fundraiser at Skillman Park in Montgomery, and also Thanks4Giving at Asbury Park on Nov. 16 with the Turkey Dash 5k and Turkey Splash (plunge) immediately afterwards.