By Kelsey Lewis
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — More than 50 athletes and 40 volunteers were in attendance as four teams clashed in the 2019 Orange County Regional floor hockey competition at The RINKS in Huntington Beach on Feb. 9.
The competition made for a busy bracket with each team playing at least two games throughout the day. The atmosphere was energetic, fierce and focused among the San Diego County (El Cajon) Gulls, Orange County (Laguna Hills) Hawks, Santa Clarita Valley Sharks and Western San Bernardino Comets.
The rematch of the year occurred when the Gulls and Hawks battled it out in the championship round. San Diego County took the gold in an electric 3-2 battle over the 2018 Floor Hockey Champions, with two thrilling goals late in the game.
With the Floor Hockey Championships coming up in less than a month on March 9 in Kern County, these teams could be destined to challenge each other once more.
Coming Out of His Shell
Through Special Olympics, Hawks player Mitchel Spraker has been able to step out of his comfort zone and find a place in which he belongs. Mitchel has autism, auditory processing disorders and a speech impediment—all of which can be attributed to his social anxiety.
“He’s gaining self-confidence,” said his mother, Heather Spraker. “Being around other athletes that all have their own challenges, they all have their own strengths, I think it encourages him. ‘OK, they’re just like me.’
“We didn’t really have a place… Now, he has a place.”
In addition to hockey, Mitchel also plays basketball, softball and flag football. He’s been able to grow with his teams and be more comfortable with others.
“It’s fun to be in a group,” Mitchel said. “People cheer you on and they support you.”
New Team, New Joy
Western San Bernardino athlete Marcus Boyer III originally played with Pomona Valley for several years before joining the Western San Bernardino program recently. As an energetic and upbeat player, Marcus acclimated himself to the team rather quickly.
“He’s very easy to coach,” said Western San Bernardino coach Kim Laza. “He has the skills already, and he gets along well with others. … He just jumped right in. Our team was just so welcoming for him.”
The team has been a bright spot during a difficult time in his life.
Marcus’ father passed away recently, but one would never be able to tell from the way he carries himself on and off the floor.
“He has a great time and everybody seems to like him,” said Western San Bernardino coach Mike Laza. “He’s always happy, always has a smile on his face. He tries extremely hard. As soon as he gets the puck, he just starts busting up laughing as he’s taking the puck down. Win, lose or draw, he’s having a great time. He’s a very good player and a really big asset to our team.”
As for Marcus, what he enjoys the most about floor hockey is scoring, spinning past defenders, and the friends he has made with the Western San Bernardino program.
Inside the SOSC is a blog managed by staff member Tracy McDannald. 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.