The first full weekend of the Special Olympics Southern California spring season got underway at five locations on Saturday.
Among the competitions were the Inland Empire Regional Spring Games in Fontana and Los Angeles/San Gabriel Valley South Bay Area Games in Carson.
Inland Empire Regional Spring Games
Athletes flocked to the Fontana Park Aquatic Center for basketball, bocce and swimming competitions. Among the highlights was the Ontario-based BAT basketball team, which stands for Behavioral Autism Therapies.
The team is comprised of solely autistic athletes. As April celebrates National Autism Awareness Month, the athletes’ hard work since the team was formed three years ago is a testament to what they are capable of achieving when given a chance.
The day’s competition was the team’s first since being moved into the upper division, and coach Jose Mendez was proud of the progress.
“For the [athletes], it’s very rewarding,” said Jose, who is a lead supervisor with BAT. “They strive to get the gold medal, but they also accept the fact they may lose. I just tell them they’ve got to put 100 percent.
“This (opportunity to play) means a lot in terms of motor skills, social skills. As teammates, they have to communicate. Their communication has improved tremendously.”
South Bay Area Spring Games
Meanwhile, over at Veterans Park in Carson, bocce and basketball teams took center stage. When they weren’t competing, the athletes made their way over to the flag football demonstration to whet their appetite for SOSC’s newest sport.
Inspiration is often tied to the athletes who make up Special Olympics, but they also draw inspiration from outside sources. Among them is the WWE, which is a partner and supporter of Special Olympics.
After one of their basketball games, members of the South Bay Mychal’s Learning Place team were spotted pointing both index fingers into the air. The gesture is an ode to WWE superstar Daniel Bryan, who sparked a worldwide “Yes!” movement that is still wildly popular, and several players mimicked the celebration.
LAUSD Spring School Games – Hawkins HS
A day earlier, the third stop on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Spring School Games took place at Hawkins High School in Los Angeles. Nineteen elementary and middle schools competed in track and field events, and members of the Hawkins HS student body helped serve as volunteers.
“It brings me a lot of joy to see them out here, having fun,” said Pablo Figueroa, a 16-year-old sophomore and part of the school’s leadership. “It really gives them an opportunity to compete while doing exercise and fitness.”
Elementary schools in attendance included: Baldwin Hills, Brockton, Charnock Road, Cienega, Cowan, Graham, Mack, Overland, Palms, Richland, Russel, Sterry and Walgrove. Middle schools in attendance included: Audobon, Marina Del Rey, Palms, Revere, Pio Pico and Webster.
Rashaan Washington was thrilled to watch his son Justin in action with his kindergarten peers from Overland Elementary School. It was Justin’s second School Games event.
“It does a good job for his self-esteem,” Rashaan said. “He has two brothers that participate in sports, as well. [Justin] is always there supporting them, so they get to come out and be here to support him. It really gives him a sense of pride and makes him feel good.”
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. John Shaffer, manager of public relations and social media, contributed to this report. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.