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Saugus High School Gets Involved With Special Olympics

Posted: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The Saugus High School S.O.S club Alexa Ferrante/Courtesy Photo

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One weekend at the end of March, gathering inside the school gym, a group of students did something that they had never done before.

In the midst of school stress, extra-curricular activities and spring break excitement, these kids became involved members and leaders of the Santa Clarita community.

That morning, a parade of green clad athletes from all over Santa Clarita marched to the adoring cheers of their fans and admirers while the anticipation of spirited competition could be felt throughout the building.

And thus began the first ever student-run Special Olympics basketball tournament at Saugus High School.

At the end of a journey that began last summer and continued over the course of the next many months, the Saugus High School Special Olympics Society (also known as S.O.S) saw all of their hard work and planning put into action.

With eight teams and almost one hundred athletes, the clubs’ goal of providing a fun but competitive forum for Santa Clarita Special Olympics athletes as well as an opportunity for students to get involved with the community, was realized.

Founded by Saugus High Junior and President Natalie Ferrante and Senior Kari Burrill the club’s current Vice President, the S.O.S club combined the girls’ love of basketball and passion for volunteering.

S.O.S strives to incorporate Special Olympics into the high school environment. Clubs also exists at West Ranch, Hart, and Valencia.

“We have a program called Project Unify and that’s a partnership between schools and Special Olympics and it encourages leadership,” said Special Olympics Sports Manager Wendy Lorton.

Project Unify began the S.O.S clubs that eventually spread to Saugus High School, where the students decided to put on the tournament as a main goal for the school year.

Events like this, led by the S.O.S clubs, gives an opportunity for our athletes not only to have a good day of sport but also to play other teams from the high schools, according to Lorton.

On the day of the tournament, students frantically managed the lunch rush at the snack bar, tinkered with the gym sound system, kept time and scores for each of the games, found volunteer referees to officiate, and coordinated with Saugus High school choir. All of which took preparation and cooperation from the S.O.S team.

“The tournament generated a rush of excitement throughout the gym, with competition of course, that allowed Special Olympics to be more involved in Saugus High School,” said veteran Special Olympics coach Austen Charles, also an officer for the S.O.S club.

Austen coaches three Special Olympics sports in total, and has even helped by officiating a few of the games. He also received the Youth Volunteer Service Award from Southern California Special Olympics, alongside Ferrante.

Even before the games began, the gym was filled with a variety of other passionate student volunteers. The Saugus High School Women’s Ensemble, led by April Dooley, performed for the athletes, their families and the many volunteers.

In addition, soloist Kelsey Atler sang the national anthem as well as an inspiring rendition of the song “My Wish” to the delight of the crowd.

The youth basketball players from Trinity Classical Academy also competed against some of the teams.

Next year, the club hopes to bring in many more groups from Saugus to continue this momentum of student led community involvement.

The club genuinely appreciated the support, participation and commitment to the event by the choir and other groups.

The tournament brought a new generation of Santa Clarita high school volunteers into leadership roles. Whenever there was a problem, an issue or a question, it was the kids that had the answers and had to act upon them.

Special Olympics has been working hard to bring teenagers and young adults into the program, and was delighted to be a part of the Saugus tournament.

Overall, the tournament was a success and leaves the S.O.S club looking forward to the future.

Ferrante, Burill, and the rest of the S.O.S club are confident in making this an annual event where Special Olympics basketball teams from around SCV can compete in a fun and friendly environment.

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