As 2020 quickly approaches, let’s take a look back at 10 highlights involving Special Olympics Southern California and its athletes from the past year.
10. Championship events
Sports help Special Olympics athletes level the playing field in their quest to be treated equally, so why not start the list there?
It was another successful year of competitions, as the Floor Hockey Championship kicked the year off with a great event in Bakersfield. In fact, save the date for Feb. 29, 2020 as it returns to the Kern County Fairgrounds.
The spring season featured the first official year of flag football as an offered sport for SOSC athletes, and they competed for medals in their first Summer Games.
Bowlers once again took over the lanes at Fountain Bowl in August, while Fall Games featured another great, two-day event at Fountain Valley Recreation Center and Sports Park.
9. A Picture is Worth a Thousand… Likes?
As you may notice throughout the year and on our various social media channels, the photos help capture the moments that SOSC athletes will cherish forever.
So, thank you to the many volunteer photographers who have donated their time and services at our various regional, championship and fundraising events throughout Southern California.
For information on how to volunteer as a photographer, email Tracy McDannald at email@example.com.
8. Finish Line Steps Up for Athletes
This year’s Fall Games featured a generous gift from Finish Line.
The athletic apparel company provided hundreds of pairs of shoes to athletes who completed at least three of the Healthy Athletes screenings—Fit Feet, FUNFitness, Health Promotions, Healthy Hearing and Special Smiles. In addition, SOSC received a $10,000 grant through the giveaway.
“We have been an eight-year national partner and sponsor of Special Olympics in the United States. We have turned our partnership into the mission of getting proper fitting sneakers on athletes’ feet,” said Sara McInerney, manager of the Finish Line Youth Foundation.
“We noticed there was an issue in the Special Olympics (athlete) population of them coming in with the wrong size shoe, too big or too small. We know there’s various obstacles for that. … You need that 1-on-1 attention and that’s hard for athletes to get sometimes. So we saw this need and decided to capitalize on our employees’ expertise, as well as our premium product. So it’s bringing together both worlds.”
7. Long Beach Airport Pulls Double Duty
Long Beach Airport, home to the annual Plane Pull, added another event to its schedule—and on the same day, no less.
An event record 80 teams comprised of 25 individuals tested their strength and teamwork in the Plane Pull on Aug. 17. Before that, runners took part in the We Run the City 5K/10K rivalry run centered around the UCLA-USC rivalry.
6. Celebrating 50 Years
After Special Olympics International celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, SOSC continued the party in 2019.
Founded in 1969, the organization started with Rafer Johnson’s vision, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s foundation, to bring Special Olympics to the west.
5. 2019 Special Olympics World Games
In most years, this would be a No. 1 highlight for any Special Olympics athlete.
Among the 2015 Special Olympics USA athletes were six from Southern California. Faith Demos (golf), Tyrone Garrett (track and field), Mark Hanson (tennis), Krystal Johnson (tennis), Sarah Kovacs (track and field) and Jonathan Pierce (swimming) made the most of their week in Abu Dhabi in mid-March.
4. Inclusion Revolution Grows
Special Olympics hosted a four-day Unified Champion Schools national conference in San Diego, setting the tone for another year of growth. Among the highlights was a visit to Olympian High School in Chula Vista, where students pledged to “choose to include—no matter what.”
The revolution carried over all the way to the United Nations, which hosted a Special Olympics athlete-led panel discussion featuring SOSC’s Dustin Plunkett and five other athletes from around the world in June. It was the first panel of its kind.
Professional sports teams made their impact, too.
In April, the L.A. Galaxy Unified soccer team made up of 20 SOSC athletes and Unified partners worked together for a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo Unified.
On Dec. 15, the Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings hosted respective Special Olympics teams from their area for an NFL experience after the teams squared off in a Unified flag football game.
3. Awareness Goes Mainstream
Individual with intellectual disabilities were at the forefront of some of the country’s biggest shows in 2019.
Before Kodi Lee was crowned the winner of America’s Got Talent, he rocked the stage at the Summer Games Opening Ceremony. It wasn’t the first time, either, as Kodi has graced the stage with his vocals at previous Summer Games.
Meanwhile, SOSC athlete Cole Sibus landed a role on the ABC drama series Stumptown, playing the role of Ansel Parios who is the brother of lead actress Cobie Smulders’ character Dex. The series debuted in September.
Individuals like Kodi and Cole continue to show there are no limits when given a chance.
2. Nonprofit of the Year
Senator Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) presented SOSC with the 2019 Nonprofit of the Year for California’s 29th Senate District during the Opening Ceremony at Summer Games in June.
1. Rafer Johnson’s Legacy Continues to be Celebrated
Dustin Plunkett perhaps said it best: Without Rafer Johnson, where would any of us be?
Those remarks came in November at the SOSC founder’s celebration of his exhibit at the LA84 Foundation. The exhibit, entitled Rafer Johnson. His Life. His Impact., opened in April and is on display into early 2020.
In late October, his alma mater UCLA renamed its track the Betsy and Rafer Johnson Track at Drake Stadium.
“It is such an honor to have the tracked named after us,” the couple said in a release. “UCLA has always been a special part of our lives and the lives of our children, Jenny and Josh. We have been and will always be Bruins.”