BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — The spotlight was on Special Olympics athletes from the stateline on Monday evening.

For the first time, the Belvidere Pirates end-of-the-year celebration included a victory parade down Pearl Street. It meant a lot to the athletes.

“It’s, like, a big deal, because the high school teams get to have them when they go to state, and now it’s a really big inclusion moment for us because we get the same treatment as everybody else, which is really nice,” said Special Olympics Illinois athlete Nori Barnes.

Belvidere residents lined the streets to cheer on their Special Olympics athletes. The Belvidere Pirates team has 52 athletes who compete in 10 sports.

“Each sport culminates after eight weeks of practices, culminates in a region tournament which they will receive medals or ribbons for their accomplishments,” said Katie Humphrey, special recreation manager for the Belvidere Park District.

Belvidere Police and Fire flashed their lights and sounded their sirens as they gave the athletes an escort.

“My favorite part is getting to see all of my friends succeed and all of us make progress throughout the sports, years, as we do different events, and getting to see people, like, make baskets when they couldn’t before or win a race when they felt like they couldn’t,” Barnes said.

Even after 20 years, the joy of being a coach still remains.

“It never gets old,” Humphrey said. “This is why I continued to do the job. Just the athletes, the smiles on their faces and the accomplishments that they achieve. They set their goals and they achieve their goals.”

The night ended with their end-of-the-year banquet at the Boone County Community Center, where they had dinner and handed out awards to celebrate the season.

“The athletes get, like, most valuable player and stuff like that, and it’s really cool,” Barnes said. “Kids like getting to see everybody succeed and, like, light up when they get awards is nice.”

This was the first banquet they have held in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.