For a sixth year, Big League Dreams’ facility played host to the Inland Empire Regional Fall Games this past weekend in Perris.
Special Olympics Southern California athletes competed in soccer and softball, and the team of 67 Big League Dreams staff members assisted in scorekeeping, announcing, field setup and maintenance, security, and more.
Several athletes and coaches expressed the joy they have competing at the facility, and the warmth from the staff and volunteers who help run the competition.
“I like Special Olympics because it’s fun! The volunteers are so nice to me,” said Joshua Nunez, an athlete from Antelope Valley.
The feeling was mutual.
“This is my favorite day of the year!” said Gabby Carrillo, a Big League Dreams staff member. “There are no disabilities here. It’s amazing to see everyone just come out and do their best, and show what they can do.”
Added Ryan Bearman, director of food and beverage: “This is the one event I never want to miss – it’s a place where you see humility and humanity come together.”
That’s the vision Adrian Williams, the Big League Dreams general manager, had when the facility first started hosting the event in 2012. He noted the relationships formed with athletes year after year, and the bond is what makes him cheer on the athletes as if they were his own family.
In fact, his own three children have volunteered over the years, as well.
Last year, Williams was honored as the volunteer of the year in the Inland Empire Region, and regional director Abbey Leffler is thankful for the support.
“We couldn’t do this event without Adrian’s leadership and the support of his team,” she said.
A Growing Program
Among the athletes in attendance was a program from Rancho Cucamonga that has made significant strides since forming in 2016.
The IncredABLES were a product of the momentum from the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which were hosted in Los Angeles. Rancho Cucamonga served as one of several host town programs for the delegations that came from around the world.
Thanks to backing from the City Council, an initial team of three was formed three years ago and is now up to 38, and counting, this year.
Katy Cox, the program’s coordinator and a head coach, said the most rewarding part of the experience is “seeing the progress made with the athletes” from a social standpoint.
“Some would start the program just saying two words to me, and not making eye contact,” she said. “Now, they come and say hi, give hugs, tell me what’s going on, make eye contact, are comfortable standing by me.”
More than 470 athletes and coaches from around the Inland Empire, as well as programs from Orange County, San Diego County and Ventura County, were in attendance.
Soccer team gold medalists included: the Vista Wild Zebras, Temecula Outlaws, Mojave Coyotes and Redlands-Yucaipa Rebels.
Softball team gold medalists included: the Antelope Valley Stealth, El Cajon Storm, San Diego County Poway Padres, Ventura County Rebels and Western San Bernardino Inland Eagles.
In addition to traditional soccer and softball team competition, both sports also had individual skills competitions.
Nineteen individual soccer skills participants, split into five separate divisions, took part in dribbling, shooting, and run and kick drills. Top performers included Daniell Bollinger, Yvonne Gaitan, Ofelia Ramirez and Danny Vergora of the Riverside T.E.A.M. delegation, and Wyatt Mytels of San Diego County.
“[My daughter] just loves doing this so much,” said Dalia Solis, whose daughter Christina, also a Riverside T.E.A.M. athlete, earned a fourth-place ribbon in the skills competition.
“I didn’t realize how much until she told me it’s because everyone says, ‘Yay, Christina!’ It means so much that they are cheering for her.”
Ten individual softball skills participants took part in base running, fielding and throwing drills. Top performers included Sebastian Gutierrez, Andrew Harris and Jadin Lowenschuss of Ventura County, Amber McClure (Central Riverside), and Deborah Woods (Mighty Menifee).
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. Chief Operating Officer Kelly Pond 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.