Sunday, March 17, marks the date of the 17th Annual Santa Barbara Divisional Basketball Competition at the UCSB Thunder Dome Events Center. The event is the largest Special Olympics single sport tournament in Southern California.

Three Santa Barbara teams will be joined by 30 basketball teams from all over Southern California to compete in the magnanimous event. More than 400 athletes will represent Santa Ynez, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Ventura, Santa Clarita, Bakersfield, Simi Valley and Burbank.

Forty-eight basketball games will be played throughout the course of the competition, using all six courts of the Thunder Dome.

This year marks the inaugural name change to The Gary Cunningham Basketball Competition, in honor of Gary Cunningham. In January 2009, Cunningham joined the Leadership Council of Special Olympics Santa Barbara.

He served on the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors, 2011-14, and continues to provide leadership and support for Special Olympics Santa Barbara Region.

Cunningham was named UCSB athletic director on Aug. 3, 1995, bringing with him a reputation as one of the nation’s finest athletic administrators.

It is only fitting for this change to take place as Cunningham helped the UCSB program flourish in a number of ways, including winning six Big West Conference Commissioner’s Cups. He is also know in the basketball world for his years playing basketball at UCLA and for leading the UCLA team.

This year’s opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. with a welcome from Congressman Salud Carbajal; the naming ceremony; the National Anthem sung by Vocal Motion; a performance by Dos Pueblos High School Cheerleaders; and Special Olympics Parade of Athletes led by dignitaries and law officers.

More than 600 Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers are expected to attend the basketball tournament. The public is invited to attend the all-day competition, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., including awards presentations.

Lt. Butch Arnoldi of Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and Officer Jonathan Gutierrez of California Highway Patrol will award gold, silver or bronze medals to the top three teams.

Local sponsors supporting this year’s tournament include: Union Bank, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Coca Cola, and Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Special Olympics Santa Barbara County serves more than 1,200 children, teens and adults with intellectual disabilities through year-round sports training and competition opportunities in 11 sports.

To get involved, as a volunteer or supporter, or to learn how to become an athlete with Special Olympics Santa Barbara, call Gina Carbajal, 805-884-1516 ext.3, email or visit

— Gina Carbajal for Special Olympics Southern California – Santa Barbara County Region.