Tuesday, August 21 , 2018, 9:08 pm | Fair 69º


Olympics a Special Event for Special Kids

Santa Barbara's Special Olympics is all fun and games for about 80 young athletes

The gloomy weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of the athletes who showed up at SBCC on Friday to show off the stuff they’re made of at the Santa Barbara Special Olympics.

About 80 special-needs youths participated in the event. Nine schools — Aliso Elementary, Brandon Elementary, Canalino Elementary, Carpinteria High, Carpinteria Middle, Hope Elementary, Mountain View Elementary, Santa Ynez High and Solvang Elementary — converged on the SBCC track for the games.

Throwing tennis balls in an approximation of the shot-putt, leaping for the long jump and racing each other to the finish line, the kids gave their all as volunteers, teachers and parents cheered and encouraged the athletes.

“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to my daughter,” said Loretta Blackhawk, whose 13-year-old daughter, Cody, participated in the games. She said Cody, her adopted child, wasn’t supposed to walk, talk or eat properly. Those things are still a challenge for the girl, her mother said, but things such as the Special Olympics give her daughter a shot at doing the kinds of things that are typical of children her age.

The event took a lot of cooperation from local schools and teachers — organizing, getting participants and training the kids for the games. But Sara Spataro of the Santa Barbara Special Olympics office said the effort was worth it.

“Look at these kids,” she said. “They’re laughing and smiling and running around.”

Special Olympics participant Lonnie T. takes a flying leap during the long jump event.
Athlete Lonnie T. takes a flying leap during the long jump event. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

Along with the student athletes out on the field, Santa Barbara Special Olympics rounded up 60 teachers and trainers and 60 volunteers. The event, sponsored by Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and the Rotary Clubs from Santa Barbara and Montecito, even provided a mini Olympic Village to accommodate and entertain families, siblings and friends who came to cheer on the athletes.

“Doing things for youth and special-needs kids is the kind of thing we like to do,” said John Ciambrone, a member of the Santa Barbara Rotary Club. Ciambrone, Randy Weiss, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust vice president of corporate and community relations, and Montecito Rotary members Les Esposito and Victoria Bentley were on hand to cheer on the participants and hand out medals at the end of the games.

“Everybody’s a winner,” Spataro said. That much was obvious from the awards ceremony, which had the kids winning one or more medals while parents and friends turned into paparazzi for the moment.

This Santa Barbara Special Olympics was an effort, but participants and organizers are already looking to make next year’s event bigger and better.

“Right now we started with third grade to 12th,” said Ruth Rech, director of special education for the Carpinteria Unified School District. Twenty-eight students from the district participated in Friday’s event. “Next year, we want to make it from K to 12.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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