Despite hot weather, about 120 athletes had a cool time at the sixth annual Temecula Special Games held at Great Oak High School on Saturday, May 3. The games were set up on the school’s football field from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Temecula Council Members Michael Naggar and Chuck Washington were present and addressed a crowd of over 500 during opening ceremonies. Washington thanked city staff and the Temecula Valley Unified School District for organizing the games and spoke of its importance to the special needs community.
“It’s the athletes that make the games special,” Washington commented.
After opening ceremonies, each athlete was paired with a volunteer to help them engage in sports-related activities of their choice. There were more than 20 non-competitive activities offered such as horseshoes, mini golf, running, bowling and martial arts.
“This is a great way to spend the day,” said Greg Berry of Menifee. His children Layla, 7, and James, 18, were participants. They have cerebral palsy and were aided by volunteers and their brothers Joseph, 16, and Gregory, 13. This is the second year that the Berry family has attended the games.
Elizabeth Berry, Greg’s wife, prefers Temecula’s games over similar ones she’s attended in Perris.
“I like this one a lot better,” she said.
She explained that at Temecula’s games parents can mingle on the field and athletes can choose activities, but at Perris’s games parents have to stay in the football stands while athletes do activities that are selected for them.
Sienna Schmolesley, 17, a Vista Murrieta High School student, was Layla’s volunteer. She believes that the games are an excellent opportunity for those with special needs to experience sports and have fun.
“It’s really neat,” she said.
Menifee resident Peter Lozano-Sanchez, 2, was one of the youngest athletes. His uncle Steve Castaneda of Temecula wore a t-shirt that said “Team Peter” and eight other family members were also there to cheer him on.
“The volunteers here are great,” said Castaneda.
“I love all the volunteers,” added Steve’s wife Liz Castaneda as she held her toddler nephew who has an intellectual disability.
This year’s games were enhanced by a caregiver’s summit that took place next to the football field under a large tent. It featured light refreshments, lunch, speakers, live music and raffle prizes.
“We wanted to include the caregivers,” said City Senior Recreation Leader Paula Worthington.
Naggar, who has a young son on the autism spectrum, lauded caregivers at the start of the summit.
“I know what it takes,” he said. “I just want to say thank you.”
Author and Independent Living Coach Amalia Starr spoke next about her struggles and triumphs as a caregiver for her disabled son.
“You matter more than you know,” she said.
Athletes were treated to pizza and fruit for lunch. They also received a medal and lots of applause at the end of the games to remember their experience.