GALLERY: Sweet success for Special Olympians 

THEY are often misunderstood or ignored, but for 350 of Australia’s most talented intellectually disabled athletes this weekend they were the toast of the Hunter. 

The Special Olympics junior national games were brought to a close last night as the ‘‘Flame of Hope’’ was extinguished in front of 1100 people at Newcastle Basketball Stadium.

Disabled athletes from every state and territory competed in swimming, cricket, athletics, ‘‘gymability’’, tennis, football, basketball and a multi-sport skill competition during the two-day event.

Joshua Holloway, Justin Mykkelttedt, Joshua Lush and Matthew Burge enjoy the athletics. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Joshua Holloway, Justin Mykkelttedt, Joshua Lush and Matthew Burge enjoy the athletics. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights NRL players Alex McKinnon and Jeremy Smith dropped in to watch some of the action at the Aquatics on Day 1 of competition. With Carl O'Farrell and Hayden Scott. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights NRL players Alex McKinnon and Jeremy Smith dropped in to watch some of the action at the Aquatics on Day 1 of competition. With Carl O'Farrell and Hayden Scott. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Charlie Wilkins (SA) after winning his 25m breaststroke race. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Charlie Wilkins (SA) after winning his 25m breaststroke race. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Siblings Zachery and Courtney Holmes, of Victoria, after their rely team's win in the 4x25m. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Siblings Zachery and Courtney Holmes, of Victoria, after their rely team's win in the 4x25m. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

 Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Michael Harris (QLD) proudly displays his two athletics medals to his family. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Michael Harris (QLD) proudly displays his two athletics medals to his family. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

The gold medal combined team of cricketers from NSW, Tasmania and Victoria. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

The gold medal combined team of cricketers from NSW, Tasmania and Victoria. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Callum Gilvarry (QLD) enjoying the Gymability session with one of his coaches. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Callum Gilvarry (QLD) enjoying the Gymability session with one of his coaches. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights NRL players Alex McKinnon, Jeremy Smith and Willie Mason dropped in to watch some of the action at the Aquatics on Day 1 of competition.  Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights NRL players Alex McKinnon, Jeremy Smith and Willie Mason dropped in to watch some of the action at the Aquatics on Day 1 of competition. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights' Willie Mason with Joe Smith. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Newcastle Knights' Willie Mason with Joe Smith. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Willie Mason presented the first Gold medal of the Junior Games to Megan Nay from NSW. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Willie Mason presented the first Gold medal of the Junior Games to Megan Nay from NSW. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

The victorious 4x25m Relay team, of Victoria celebrate their win. Left to right: Courtney Holmes, Travis Tankard, Harvey O'Dwyer and Zachery Holmes. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

The victorious 4x25m Relay team, of Victoria celebrate their win. Left to right: Courtney Holmes, Travis Tankard, Harvey O'Dwyer and Zachery Holmes. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Major General Mick Slater and SOA Chairman Mark Streeting meet some of the athletes at the pool. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Major General Mick Slater and SOA Chairman Mark Streeting meet some of the athletes at the pool. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

 Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

 Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

 Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

NSW athletes and new best mates, Sam Stubbs and Jordan Cabrita after winning gold in cricket. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

NSW athletes and new best mates, Sam Stubbs and Jordan Cabrita after winning gold in cricket. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Patrick May shows his three silver medals to teammate Shenai Williams. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Patrick May shows his three silver medals to teammate Shenai Williams. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

QLD athlete Sam Bembrick. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

QLD athlete Sam Bembrick. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Hayden and Daniel Thompson, of QLD, celebrated their 14th birthday. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Hayden and Daniel Thompson, of QLD, celebrated their 14th birthday. Picture: Peter Muhlbock / Special Olympics Australia

Hunter Valley Special Olympics club member Megan Nay, 10, won the first gold medal of the competition, in a 25-metre backstroke event. 

Hunter musicians and dance groups entertained the large crowd during the closing ceremony before a parade of athletes, many with gold, silver and bronze swinging from their neck, took centre stage.

Newcastle Knights, Jets and Hunters players, as well as Wallabies and paralympians, visited the athletes during the competition, taking photographs and providing morale, support and advice. 

Games co-ordinator Sally Hill said the weekend was a ‘‘huge success’’ and paid tribute to the 350 volunteers and carers who contributed.