Tuesday, October 24, 2017     Volume: 31, Issue: 20
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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 31

Special Olympians to compete in divisional games in Santa Maria

Athletes from Kern to LA will convene in Santa Maria for SoCal Special Olympics divisional games

By PETER JOHNSON


GAME ON
Local softball players represented Northern Santa Barbara County last year during the Special Olympics Southern California Northern Divisional games in Santa Maria. This year’s games take place Oct. 14 at Hagerman Sports Complex.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SANTA MARIA

Kristy Soriano, 39, was 9 years old when she first enrolled in a Special Olympics competition.

Her sport of choice at the time? Track and field.

“My parents got me involved,” the lifelong Santa Maria resident recalled to the Sun. “They thought it was a good way to exercise. I used to go down to UCLA [for competitions] and they gave out ribbons.”

Soriano has a learning disability as well as a vision condition that prevents her from doing certain things like driving at night. But those hurdles haven’t stopped her from spending a life participating in a variety of sports that are offered to athletes with disabilities by the Southern California chapter of the worldwide Special Olympics organization.
“I’m grateful for my parents,” Soriano said of getting the opportunity to nurture a lifelong passion for athletics.

Soriano’s focus these days is in tennis and bowling—and she’ll gear up to compete in the former at the upcoming Special Olympics Southern California Northern Divisional games hosted by the city of Santa Maria on Oct. 14.

More than 400 athletes representing LA, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Kern, and San Luis Obispo counties will descend on the city to compete in tennis, softball, volleyball, and soccer.

Santa Maria has played host to the divisional games since 2005, according to Nick Chavez, operations coordinator for the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics, and they serve as something of a qualifier for the state-level fall games that are held in Southern California on Nov. 11 and 12.

“This is a great opportunity to see Special Olympics athletes who train and compete year round,” Chavez said.


EYE ON THE BALL
A young boy steps to the plate at the Special Olympics games in Santa Maria in 2016. The city has hosted the organization’s Northern Division SoCal games since 2005.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SANTA MARIA

The games will kick off at 9 a.m., starting with an Opening Ceremony at the Hagerman Sports Complex. The ceremony will showcase all the athletes in a march across the field, followed by the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron. “Honored guests” and local law enforcement will be in attendance supporting the athletes.

Then the teams will disperse to different sites to play their respective sports. Soccer and softball will stay at Hagerman while tennis will move to Minami Community Center, and volleyball to Lakeview Junior High School. The games are expected to start at 10 a.m. and run until 3 p.m.

Soriano said she’s excited to be playing for her parents, who will be the coaches for the area tennis team, during the divisional games. The team’s been busy practicing every Wednesday at Minami (and Soriano is also honing her skills at the bowling alley on weekends). Next year, she plans to take up track and field again and said she also hopes to compete in bocce ball.

With so many opportunities to play different sports and enjoy the benefits of having team and competition at the Special Olympics, Soriano expressed both gratitude and melancholy about her fortune, versus the misfortune of others, in being able to manage a disability while thriving in a sporting environment.

“I’m grateful that I’m able to do Special Olympics, because there are some athletes that can’t do it,” Soriano said. “Some athletes in group homes can’t do these type of competitions or practices because they have behavioral problems and they can’t handle the competitions. It would be too hard. I wish it would be a lot easier for some.”

When asked what was one thing she wished more people would understand about the Special Olympics, Soriano didn’t hesitate with her answer:

“I would wish that they’d know that they can donate to Special Olympics,” she said. “It’s good for us athletes because then we can take more people down to LA [for competitions]. We can only take so many people.”


Help out
The Special Olympics Southern California Northern Divisional games take place on Oct. 14 at the Hagerman Sports Complex in Santa Maria. Make a donation to the Special Olympics at give.specialolympics.org.

According to the Special Olympics Southern California website, 31,400 athletes participate in the organization—but for “every inspiring Special Olympics athlete in Southern California, there are 31 more people waiting for their chance.” You can make your own donation to the Special Olympics Southern California at specialolympics.org. In addition to putting on the competitions, Special Olympics offers year-round training in 12 sports and partners with school districts and special education classes to reach youth across the state.

Sports contributor Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.




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