Special Olympics athletes and organizers in Lakewood have made a tremendous impact, and the City of Lakewood took notice.
In celebration of the city’s 65th anniversary, Special Olympics Lakewood was among the nonprofit programs honored as the City Council named “Lakewood Volunteer Civic Organizations in Service to the Community” its newest Legends of Lakewood. The program was honored as part of a community reception on Feb. 10.
In 2004, the Legends of Lakewood honor was introduced to recognize individuals, organizations, groups of organizations and programs for the significant contributions to the city.
For more than 30 years, Lakewood’s program has been part of Special Olympics Southern California. The group has produced several memories in that time, including most notably a silver medal finish in softball at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
Chuck Martucci started the program with just six athletes in 1990, forming a basketball team, “and from there it grew every year.”
“Today, in our program, we have more than 100 athletes. So we’re very proud of it,” he said.
“I love coaching because it’s incredible to see athletes constantly grow and progress in their abilities through the years. For these athletes, Special Olympics is an organization they are going to keep on participating for as long as they want.”
For Martucci and his fellow volunteer coaches, the gift of providing team sports opportunities to the athletes is among the more rewarding aspects.
“[The athletes’] smiles are the most genuine. … It’s inspirational,” said Joseph Vasquez, a coach and program lead for the Lakewood program.
For the athletes, sports are just one of the many perks of participating.
“I’ve made a countless number of friends,” said athlete Tyler Cribbs, who joined the program in 2011. “When I first moved out here (from Kansas), I didn’t know anyone.
“I get to keep playing sports and it keeps me super active.”