The weather was warm and spirits were high as the community gathered to honor athletes, law enforcement and volunteers at the Special Olympics Southern California-Santa Barbara County’s Third Annual Summer Games and Torch Run Celebration Luncheon last week at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden.

The festivities got under way at noon Thursday with a presentation of colors ceremony by law enforcement officers. Next, Sara Spataro, regional director at Special Olympics Santa Barbara, welcomed the guests and graciously thanked members of the community, sponsors, city officials, law enforcement agencies and volunteers for their continued support in assisting the Special Olympics.

“Our athletes show determination, courage, teamwork and sportsmanship,” Spataro said. “We are very pleased with our athletes and the way they represent the spirit of the Special Olympics.”

Spataro emphasized that Special Olympics serves 350 children, teens and adults with intellectual disabilities in the Santa Barbara area. Through the program, 150 children with special needs from 21 schools compete in track-and-field programs that aim to empower the athletes and help them become productive and respected members of the community.

“Our athletes are five times more likely to be employed because of the opportunities they have to practice teamwork, responsibility and inclusion in our community,” Spataro said.

To a standing ovation as they marched to the main stage, Spataro introduced the Special Olympic athletes.

As lunch was served, Goleta Police Chief Ugo “Butch” Arnoldi and Santa Barbara police Lt. Dave Whitham thanked guests for support of the Tip-A-Cop fundraisers and spoke about the upcoming Law Enforcement Torch Run that will travel through South Santa Barbara County on Wednesday. The 2011 Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games are scheduled for June 11-12 in Long Beach.

“Proceeds from the Torch Run and Tip-A-Cop have raised over $16,000 combined for Special Olympics Santa Barbara this year,” said Spataro.

Three-time Special Olympics medalist athlete Jessica Simon presented the Outstanding Volunteer Award to Sue McCue, coach of the tennis and bocce teams. Guest speakers included Special Olympics Leadership Council member Aaron Brown and UCSB men’s assistant basketball coach Kevin Bromley, who gave an inspirational speech to the athletes.

“You all have an ACE in your pocket,” said Bromley. “A is for attitude, stay positive and keep smiling; C for concentration, stay focused on your tasks; and E for effort, work hard and you will get what you want.”

The luncheon concluded with a presentation to multiple gold medalist Nanette Hudson-Clark, who received the Santa Barbara Special Olympics Athlete of the Year Award for more than 20 years of outstanding athletic achievement in aquatics, bowling and bocce ball. Clark was also recognized for achievements as an avid fundraiser for the Special Olympics as a Global Messenger and member of the Athlete Input Council.

Clark thanked her mom and fellow teammates for their continued support and rallied the athletes in training.

“Lets pull together as a team, play and win together,” Clark said. “Let’s bring home the gold!”

The Santa Barbara Special Olympics expressed gratitude for the generosity of the Torch Run Celebration Luncheon sponsors:

» Presenting Sponsors: Deckers Outdoor Corp., MarBorg Industries and Montecito Bank & Trust.

» Gold Medal Sponsors: The Bank of Santa Barbara, Citrix Online, Cox Communications, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation.

» Torch Run Sponsors: Deputy Sheriff’s Association Santa Barbara County and 2011 Southern California Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews, and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.