UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) made the difficult decision to cancel its Summer Games due to air quality concerns in the area.

Organizers of the SOPA Summer Games, which were scheduled to hold opening ceremonies at Penn State University Thursday, canceled the largest statewide competition as wildfire smoke from Canada has created unhealthy air quality across Central Pennsylvania.

“While this is hard, this is an easy decision when it comes to saving people’s lives and putting people not at risk,” SOPA Chief Mission Officer Nate Garland said.

Volunteers were all set up and some athletes were even registered and ready to compete in their events, just to be turned away. Almost 1,700 athletes were heading to Happy Valley for this year’s event which has been in the works since last September.

“We got the word last night that we were going to have the games so we were excited to come in and start setting up,” SOPA Volunteer Bikem Oskin said.

In an announcement on social media, SOPA said the news was incredibly disappointing but expressed that the safety and health of the athletes, volunteers and staff are their top priority.

People with intellectual disabilities have higher rates of adverse health conditions and are therefore at greater risk. Based on the best information available from a variety of reputable sources, we do not believe conditions in State College would permit us to safely conduct these Games.

Statement released by Special Olympics Pennsylvania

The games were scheduled from Thursday, June 8 to Saturday, June 10 and were to consist of eight Olympic events along with other various activities. SOPA Board Member Sue Paterno was expecting over 2,000 athletes to attend this year’s games.

The games are funded in part by the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run which raised a record $445,000 this year. Now with the cancellation of the games, SOPA is working with donors to find ways to continue to fulfill the mission of the organization.

SOPA representatives said there are no plans to reschedule the Summer Games at this time.