A story about the Bay Area Special Olympics games in Lafayette, incorrectly reported the Army unit that trained Dublin school district students. The 1st Regiment, 363rd Battalion helped train the students
LAFAYETTE -- Teresa Fernandez was pumped up Tuesday. She ran, jumped, threw a foam mini-javelin and launched a softball shot put as far as she could in the third annual Bay Area Games at Acalanes High School.
The 21-year-old, who is enrolled in a transition program for special education students in the Dublin school district, said that competing in the track and field event hosted by Special Olympics Northern California gave her a sense of accomplishment, and better yet, meant she got to spend the day having fun and practicing fitness skills.
"It's also a day to forget that we're different," she said, smiling. "It's a day to feel regular. Usually, everyone treats us differently. But today, we're just here for the games."
About 550 students with intellectual disabilities ranging from kindergarten to young adults participated in the games, which for the first time included a unified relay with Special Olympics athletes and general education students who also served as volunteers and cheerleaders.
The track and field event was one of three Special Olympics programs that take place during the school year, said Cathy DeVries, a program vice president. Athletes from Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties participated.
"The goal of the events is to give students a chance to have meaningful social inclusion with their peers," DeVries said. "It's grown every year. I think there's a greater interest, as people see unified programs at schools, which ultimately change the campus environment."
Several students wore T-shirts that said: "Live unified. Play unified." Freedom High sophomore Cydnee Kinslow, who plays center on the school's varsity basketball team, helped organize a basketball team comprised of varsity players and special education students that competed Monday against a similar team from Heritage High in Brentwood.
"I said, 'I'm so tired of them being so secluded, I'm going to include them in everything,'" said the 15-year-old Oakley sophomore. "I wanted to give them the same experience I get, with a big crowd. Each and every one of them made a shot. It was really cool to see our varsity players playing along with them."
T.J. Tauras, 15, a Freedom High Special Olympics athlete who also plays on the school's unified basketball team, said he felt great competing in both games. T.J. said he was excited to run in the Special Olympics unified relay, where he got to pass the baton to Cydnee.
The Bay Area Games drew supporters from the Army base at Camp Parks, who came to cheer on the Dublin team. And dozens of law enforcement officers, who raise money for Special Olympics year round, awarded medals to the athletes.
Army Sgt. First Class Adolfo Cancino said his battalion helped the Dublin team train.
"We gave them the Army PT," Cancino said, referring to physical training. "They ran a mile and did push-ups and sit-ups. We took what the Army does to assess our physical abilities and turned it into something fun for them."
El Cerrito Police Traffic Sgt. Shawn Maples, who is assistant director of Northern California Special Olympics, said law enforcement agencies raise about $1.1 million a year to support the program. Helping the organization, he said, is one of the most rewarding things he's done in his 28-year career.
"The reward," he said, "is seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that you've done something that's truly, truly appreciated."
More information about Special Olympics Northern California is available by visiting http://sonc.org.
To see video clips from the third annual Bay Area Games in Lafayette, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.