Special Olympics and Hays continue a long affiliation this week when the annual state basketball and cheerleading tournament gets started Thursday.

“It’s been a very long and healthy relationship,” said Tim Rehder, senior vice president of program operations for Special Olympics Kansas.

The tournament has been in Hays for approximately 40 years. Rehder said the cooperation from the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hays Recreation Commission and Fort Hays State University always have been phenomenal.

“I pretty much get whatever I ask for,” he said with a laugh. “They usually bend over backwards for us.”

Normally, organizers are still looking for volunteers in the days before the tournament, but Rehder said that is not the case this time thanks to efforts by Melissa Dixon, executive director of the Hays CVB, and Bobbi Pfeifer, CVB tourism and group services coordinator.

“We’re sitting pretty. It shows the dedication of the community for the tournament,” he said.

Activities begin at 1 p.m. Thursday, with competitions for individual basketball skills at FHSU’s Gross Memorial Coliseum and cheerleading at the HRC, 1105 Canterbury. A speed-dribble competition will be at 3 p.m. at GMC.

Thursday’s highlight will be opening ceremonies, starting at 7 p.m. at GMC, when more than 1,000 athletes from 130 teams will parade into the coliseum and the torch will be lit. FHSU’s Tiger Debs will perform.

Tournament play will begin at 8 a.m. Friday at FHSU, Hays High School and HRC. A banquet for participants will be at 5 p.m. at Rose Garden Banquet Hall, followed by a dance at 7 p.m. at Hays High.

“There’s a fair amount of athletes that would say that’s the most important thing, and the games just get in the way of the time to go to the dance,” Rehder said.

Tournament play continues at 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at FHSU and HRC.