WeissCrax: March Madness Special Report

The SB All-Stars took second place in Sunday's basketball tournament at the Thunderdome.

Think college, like UC Santa Barbara and the Thunderdome.

March hoops.

No greater time in ‘roundball.’

And no greater place on this stormy Sunday…

Talented athletes from near and far, line up ready for competition.

Sara Spataro & Ashley Haug lead the SB Special Olympics way

Devoted fans sit close on crowded bleachers.

There’s electricity in the air!

Then, from the ‘gi-normious’ speakers lodged high up in the wooden rafters…

“Good morning, everyone and welcome to the 11th Annual Special Olympic Basketball Tournament hosted by Santa Barbara,” sez Ashley Haug, Regional Sports Manager for Santa Barbara South County.

And so it begins, but first …

The traditional Parade of Athletes led beautifully by Monique Ontiveros from Northern SB County.

Then the Torch of Hope with Mia Lucero from Ventura proudly carrying the American flag.

Then the Pledge of Allegiance, performed perfectly by Merle Frost from Santa Clarita Valley.

Then the National Anthem, sung by nearly everyone.

Then the Athletes Oath, recited masterfully by Colbert Williams.

Then the Referees’ Oath, by the referees, of course …

And then, finally, the official pronouncement from Executive Director of Special Olympics Santa Barbara, Sara Spataro…

“I NOW DECLARE THE TOURNAMENT OFFICIALLY OPEN.”

In other, more familiar words …

“LET THE GAMES BEGIN…”

And then suddenly — games everywhere!!

Main Court. Two side courts. Both upstairs courts.

Aleman and coach 'Jerry'

Twenty-four talented teams from around Southern California. Four from Santa Barbara – All Stars, Dragons, Ligers and Sharp Shooters.

Four divisions. All different colors. Yellow. Red. Orange. Purple.

And all playing for ‘Gold’.

It’s a total team effort hosting these Games – staff, athletes, coaches, families, sponsors, volunteers from seemingly everywhere – local companies, non-profits groups like the National Charity League and students from local schools, parents, friends …

Basically everyone.

“It’s even bigger than last year’s tournament,” Haug offers. “It’s a great day for all the athletes but it doesn’t happen without all these awesome volunteers.”

Special people like Jerry Siegel and Dan Weiner, to name two.

“When I moved here from New Yawk in 2003, I was just looking for a way to help out. I fell in love with Special Olympics,” Siegel sez.

Weiner is fully immersed too, only longer, since 1997…

“I received a piece of mail one day that they were looking for volunteers. I was semi-retired, an old jock’ and looking to help,” adds ‘Dan Da Man’. He’s since been coaching soccer, softball and track.

“It’s all about community,” Spataro chimes in.

And what a community it is!

There’s just something, well, special about Special Olympics.

Referee Bossier lights it up on the court!

It’s clear from walking the sidelines … hearing the positive encouragement on the benches … the passionate fans … the many smiles on many faces.

The players are young and old.

All shapes and sizes.

Tall and not-tall.

Men and women.

All playing together.

Like Susie Carey.

“I scored eight points in my last game. I’m on the Dragon team,” she volunteers as she passes on the stairwell. It’s later learned that Susie is the first local female Special Olympian to play in this basketball tourney years ago — also good to know she’s still ‘got game.”

And for SB All Star player Juan Aleman who can’t wait every year for this tourney, these games are important for another reason ….

Susie Carey

“I like playing with Coach Jerry. He helps me control my anger issues,” Juan sez as Coach Jerry R-a-f-f-e-a-l-l-i (he spells it twice when this reporter struggles) walks over for photo. Coach Jerry has been playing hoops for 25 years – the last few as player-coach.

These games are meaningful for Referee Karen Bossier, as well. She is ‘real-life’ high school and collegiate ref who has made the trek from Los Angeles.

“My Mom was a Special Education Professor. I’ve been hooked ever since,” Bossier states. She looks likes she is having the time of her life – chatting with the players … joining team huddles at halftime… ‘hamming it up’ for photo ops.

“OK. The first five players on the floor get to play first,” sixth year ‘rah-rah’ Simi coach, Jeff Morse tells his team at the end of half-time. And minutes later with the action at the far basket, he looks over this shoulder and responds to this sportz reporter’s obvious question ‘why’ …

“I just love it!” he responds with a huge smile.

Another Coach – Aaron Brown, of the SB All-Stars (2nd Place, Purple Division) and a local financial advisor who also serves on the Special Olympics Santa Barbara Leadership Council, puts the real spin on today …

“This is our March Madness.”

And everyone knows there’s no better time for hoops.

Especially here on this Special Sunday ….

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