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It’s game time for Special Olympics

162 local athletes with intellectual disabilities get together to compete

Posted: May 16, 2009 8:57 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Susan Treister, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley team of athletes, known as The Sharks, looks at her medals from the Special Olympics.

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Camaraderie and team spirit dominated the atmosphere of the eighth annual Special Olympics Regional Spirit Games on Saturday, as more than 550 athletes with intellectual disabilities competed in track and field, boccie, tennis and basketball.

A total of 162 athletes from the Santa Clarita Valley joined others from Ventura County, Antelope Valley, Kern County and more for what many parents, volunteers, coaches and athletes referred to as an exciting day for sportsmanship.

“It’s great having all our athletes together from other regions and to see the smiles on their faces,” said Laura Mayo, regional director for Special Olympics Santa Clarita and Tri-Valley.

The games kicked off with the opening ceremony, where athletes marched onto the Hart High School field to the beat of the Olympic Hymn. The Santa Clarita Valley athletes, named The Sharks, were welcomed with high-fives and pompoms from friends, volunteers and family members lining the field.

Spectators and athletes alike watched as a Los Angeles County firefighter climbed to the top of a high-towering ladder and lowered the torch with a rope to the track. A handful of law enforcement officials led several participants in the ceremonial torch run around the track as they passed the torch on to their fellow athletes.

By 10 a.m., the athletes were on their way to their respective competition areas around Newhall Park, Placerita Junior High School, the Boys & Girls Club and Hart High School with hundreds of parents and friends ready to support them until 4 p.m., when the games came to a close.

Mothers Hope Flores and Laura Gilruth cheered on each of their sons, Blaine Stach and Casey Gilruth, as they competed in a men’s basketball game.

Their sons are best friends who had been looking forward competing in the games.

“They talk about it all week at school, they’ll talk about it after school,” Flores said. “It’s hard for (Blaine) to eat the night before.

He gets really excited about it.”

After winning their first game, one team was somewhat disappointed to lose its second, but their attitudes remained positive.

“They put the effort in and tried hard,” said Jay Schubert, the team’s assistant coach, whose son, Ryan, is also on the team.

Schubert said the team has improved, especially in the area of passing.

“We passed the ball a lot and we made shots,” said Blaine Stach, 18. “We did great.”

The games also enlisted the help of more than 300 volunteers from the community.

Christie Lehman, 18, and her mother, Liza Zahn, helped with the track and field events.

As someone who works with children with special needs, Zahn said volunteering for the games was something she had always wanted to do.

“Even considering the heat and everything, (the athletes) are still just as excited,” she said.

Special Olympics is the largest sports organization in the world. Participants select from 22 different sports and compete in sporting events throughout the year.  

About 70 participants from Saturday’s event will go on to compete in the June summer games for Southern California in Long Beach.  

“Our dream and hope is to go to Long Beach,” said Mario Hidalgo, 30, of Saugus, referring to him and his boccie ball teammate, Ray Carrizosa, 65, of Canyon Country. “You gotta know what you’re doing, because this is serious.”  



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