National Volunteer Week: In the Coaches’ Words

Coaches come from various backgrounds at Special Olympics Southern California. Some have personal connections to a particular sport and wanted a way to give back, others are law enforcement officers making time despite a busy schedule. Whatever the backstory may be, the coaches all share a common joy in watching the athletes grow.

“I love to build people up and encourage. I get a real passion, a real joy [out of it],” Cameron Woods, a track and field coach in Carson, told last spring.

Here’s what other coaches have had to say about the experience over the past year:

“I’m happy when I see [the athletes] do something, and they know they did it, and they get excited – regardless, if they win or lose.”

Jaime Bermudez, Kern County floor hockey coach and correctional officer

“Special Olympics has played a vital role in my family’s life. From the beginning of our involvement, everyone in our family was positively affected.”

Jackie Hartmann, Santa Clarita bowling coach

“The smiles on athlete’s faces. Since working in recreation, their smiles are the most genuine. They’re always happy regardless of how small the program is or the activity that they’re doing. I think they just want to be together and be around their friends, and it’s always a good time.”

Joe Vasquez, Lakewood softball coach

“It’s so amazing to be able to coach these athletes, just to see them progress and get better each time. They have so much fun and are all about encouraging each other.”

Leslie Runnels-Stover, San Diego swim coach

“I can be a person who helps my friends be a little bit more inclusive. So, a lot of my friends have learned about Special Olympics through me and my husband, who is also a coach.”

Stephanie Wise, San Luis Obispo swim coach

“It’s fulfilling to come out and see what they’ve practiced on during the week, what they pick up, and show in the competitions.”

Mike Higgins, Kern County floor hockey coach

“The Special Olympics are great because they give the athletes a chance for normalcy and supports social interaction.”

-Eric McMahan, Special Olympics softball coach for seven years

“Special Olympics means everything – it means family, friends, progression.”

Elizabeth Estrada, Long Beach volleyball coach

“The first time I saw [my son] run a race, I was just a puddle. I was in tears all over the place. I knew after that I wanted to be a part of Special Olympics.”

Ron Russell, San Gabriel Valley track and field coach

“They’ve reinforced my love of sports.”

Deneese Thompson, Special Olympics Antelope Valley area director and Lady Lopes basketball coach


  1. This is my son with his coach from Carson! So excited to see this! Thank you for all you do SOSC!!


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