It was off to the races Tuesday morning as over 200 area senior citizens and volunteers gathered to celebrate the opening of the 2012 Carbon County Senior Games.

The kickoff celebration for the 23rd annual event was held at the Lehighton Recreation Center, Eighth and Iron streets. This year's competitors include seniors from Panther Valley, Lehighton, Palmerton, Weatherly and Jim Thorpe/Penn Kidder senior centers.

The opening ceremony began with a presentation of colors by members of the Panther Valley JROTC and the singing of the national anthem by Jim Thorpe team member Martha Moyer.

Anne Horrigan, coordinator of the games, welcomed everyone to this year's games and then introduced the guest speakers.

Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein welcomed the participants and thanked everyone for making the games possible.

"I can't believe a whole year has passed already," Nothstein said, adding that there are only five rules for the senior games.

"Have a good time, no one get hurt, no biting, no kicking, and no hitting below the belt," he said with a laugh. "Good luck everyone and enjoy yourselves."

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard wished everyone the best of luck during the games.

"It's amazing to see everyone here," he said, adding that he never imagined the games were this popular. "It's going to be a great day. Good luck."

Commissioner William O'Gurek echoed his colleagues' thoughts, saying that he couldn't believe it was time for the games already.

He spoke about how things change over the years, but one thing remains constant at the annual senior games, all participants bring a spirited attitude and look forward to meeting up with old friends and making new ones along the way.

"I love the enthusiasm and friendships here," O'Gurek said. "That's what makes these games so special."

He then wished everyone the best of luck during the seven days of competition.

Following the commissioners, Cheri Santore, director of the Carbon County Area Agency on Aging, addressed the participants.

She thanked everyone for making the games an annual success and recognized this year's sponsors, who made the games possible.

"It's you, the participants, that make the games happen," Santore said. "Thank you."

She also recognized Devon Bizarre, a Weatherly Area High School junior who raised money for the games as her senior project.

With Bizarre's help, the organizers of the games raised $3,500, which covered things like new shuffleboard pucks and the annual souvenir booklet; as well as other costs associated with the operations of the games.

Santore then handed the microphone to Horrigan, who introduced the senior center managers.

She then turned it over to the driving force behind the senior games, Victor Pituch.

Pituch, who has been leading the games since they began in 1988, thanked everyone for their love, help and support over the years.

He joked around, saying that he never thought he would see the day when so many seniors participated in the games.

He thanked the volunteers who helped set up for the games on Monday; as well as the schools and students who volunteer their time to help with different events.

Before the official opening of the 2012 Senior Games, Horrigan led the participants in the Pledge of Allegiance and Bizarre led the Senior Games Oath. Horrigan then officially opened the games with the usual saying, "Let the games begin!"

The 2012 Carbon County Senior Games will continue through May 10 for county residents age 60 and older. Locations for this year's events include the Lehighton Recreation Center, Panther Valley High School, Terpstra's, Jim Thorpe/Penn Kidder Senior Center, Panther Valley Senior Center, Heisler's Dairy Bar, Cypress Lanes, Fritz's Lanes and Baer Memorial Field. The games will conclude with a banquet at Mahoning Ambulance on Mill Road in Mahoning Township.

Editor's Note: Daily results of the 2012 Carbon County Senior Games will be published in the TIMES NEWS. Grab a copy every day to see who is leading this year's competition.