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Showing their spirit

Posted: May 18, 2008 1:21 a.m.
Updated: July 19, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Jonah Stacey, a Santa Clarita Valley Special Olympics athlete from the Blue Sharks basketball team, looks for help from his teammates during Saturday afternoon's game versus the Long Beach chapter.

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Athletes from across Southern California crowded Newhall Park and Hart High School's gymnasium when the Special Olympics hosted the 7th annual Spirit Games on Saturday.

The event, which serves as the regional qualifier for the Summer Games in June, brought in 700 athletes, including players from the Santa Clarita Valley.

Because of Saturday's sizzling temperatures, the track and field competitions were cancelled and the tennis matches were cut short,said Laura Mayo, regional director for Special Olympics of the Santa Clarita Valley.

During the morning's opening ceremonies, Mayo said two Marines helicopters flew over the competition area while another helicopter dropped off an athlete to take part in the torch run.

Four athletes participated in the torch run that was held at Hart High School's track.

Throughout the day, athletes from the Special Olympics, an international organization that offers sports training and athletic competition for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities, were treated to their own Olympic Village in Newhall Park, which featured low-key games and opportunities to take breaks in between competitions.

Despite the heat, the hundreds of athletes, ranging in age from 8 to 78 years old, spent the day competing in bocce, a game described as lawn bowling, and basketball.

During the afternoon bocce competitions, Steven Bratzel, head bocce coach, explained that his sport, which involves grabbing and rolling a ball onto the grassy court, makes it easy for anyone to play. The competitions invoke a tremendous amount of camaraderie and allows many participants to form friendships over the years, he said.

Inside Hart High School's gym, Jeff Ross, head of sport for basketball, said the best part is that the programs create an opportunity for athletes with the same disabilities to interact with each other.

Ross is also pleased to give his time as a coach for the Special Olympics. "I get more out of it than they do," he said.

Ross is also the father of an athlete as his 12-year-old son Kevin, who has high functioning autism, competes in the Special Olympics games.

Ross said his son has made a lot of friends because of the Special Olympics is happy to be involved. "He loves coming to practice," he said.

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