BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Special Olympics Southern California’s Floor Hockey Championship had inspiration from start to finish Saturday at the Kern County Fairgrounds.
The event featured 15 teams and 240 athletes, with teams split into the Pacific, Central, Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions. Teams played games in the morning before being seeded based on record in the afternoon.
To help ensure balance and healthy competition, the Orange County Laguna Hills Hawks Slashers were redivisioned following the morning action after scoring 11 goals in their opening game in the Atlantic division. Thus, after a 4-1 victory in the afternoon, they were awarded a gold medal in a separate Atlantic OG division.
Meanwhile, the Santa Clarita Valley Sharks posted a pair of victories, including a 9-0 win in the Atlantic gold medal game.
The Pacific division produced the most thrilling gold medal game of the day. The San Luis Obispo County Tigers held on for a 7-6 win over the OC Laguna Hills Hawks Body Checkers, who rallied back with three goals in the final period to make it a tight finish.
From top to bottom, the Central division had the most balance in the medal rounds. The Western San Bernardino Comets squeaked past the OC Laguna Hills Hawks Stickers, 8-7, for the gold medal. In a battle for the bronze between familiar foes, the Santa Maria Ducks edged out the Santa Barbara County Dolphins, 8-6.
Rounding out the competition, the San Diego County Vista Red Wings claimed the Metropolitan division with an 8-4 win. The Lompoc Braves scored 17 goals in their final game of the day to earn bronze.
During Opening Ceremonies, officers from the Bakersfield Police Department took part and Kern County athlete Eric Galindo brought in the Flame of Hope alongside Officer Braxton Tune. The athlete oath was delivered by Penny Dalton and referee Toni Melvin recited the officials’ oath.
“You come to these events, it doesn’t matter who you are, and everybody loves you here,” said Officer Tune, who has a nephew with Down syndrome and will likely be a future athlete.
“All these athletes love us being here, I love watching them. You can’t help but feel [the love] when you come out here.”
To get the athletes pumped up for the competition, motivational speaker and on-air radio personality Doc Lewis addressed the crowd. A former Special Olympics athlete in Louisiana, the 52-year-old shared his inspiring life story that included weighing just 8 ounces at birth and being brain dead for nine hours when he was just 2 years old.
Doc, who has cerebral palsy, has maintained a positive outlook in his life. His perseverance led to becoming a two-time Grammy award nominee.
“I love being around the athletes,” said Doc, who broadcasts Sunday mornings on 90.7FM KFSR in Fresno. “They are so skillful and very competitive. They’ve made me always want to give back and keep coming to Special Olympics competitions.”
Performance Station Makes Debut
In between games, the athletes took part in five stations that made up the Performance Station as part of this year’s Healthy Athletes experience.
The booths were dubbed: Competition Readiness, Hydration, Fitness Challenge, Fitness Pledge and Local Opportunities (Team Wellness).
|Competition Readiness||Athletes went through a checklist that included equipment check, glasses/goggles check, hydration check and proper nutrition discussion.|
|Hydration||Athletes were given reusable water bottles, and volunteers taught the importance of drinking water over sugary drinks.|
|Fitness Challenge||Athletes were given the option to do a challenge or participate in warm-up/cool down exercises and stretches.|
|Fitness Pledge||Athletes worked with volunteers to create SMART goals, and a pledge wall allowed them to post their fitness goals.|
|Local Opportunities||Team Wellness and other local opportunities were presented to athletes interested in courses to help further their education in living a happier, healthier and more active lifestyle.|
Among the highlights was the pledge wall, which athletes contributed to by posting their fitness goals ranging from a reduction in soda consumption to weight loss targets.
“I’ve always liked conditioning because it helps me and my fellow athletes prepare for upcoming games and championships,” said Kern County athlete Rudy Briseno, 25, who sang the national anthem prior to competition.
“I learned that we can always stay active and be more healthy, eating right — fruits and veggies — and drinking plenty of water.”
Coach of the Season
During Opening Ceremonies, Jaime Rutiaga of Santa Barbara County was presented with the Coach of the Season award.
A coach for more than 13 years, his impact goes well beyond just teaching his athletes how to excel in sports. Coach Rutiaga has been known to help athletes find employment and housing, too.
“That was a huge surprise,” he said.