Special Olympics coaches give back, and so can you

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Pomona Valley Special Olympics coaches Janine Williams and Doneva Wickwire have a unique weekend ritual they have been observing for about a decade.

Each morning the duo host athletes from across the inland valley to play and practice various sports in preparation for upcoming Special Olympics games. The coaches are currently training athletes in track and field for the Pomona Valley Area Spring Games, set for Saturday, May 6 at Boys Republic, 1907 Boys Republic Dr., Chino Hills. Information is at sosc.org/events.

A March 3 practice at Claremont High School began with stretching. Then the dozen athletes broke up into two groups made of runners and walkers. Athletes warmed up with mock 50-meter courses before competing in timed relays.

Julian Teal, 30, from Claremont, finished fastest at 6.31 seconds. Talk amongst volunteers revealed Teal is a naturally gifted athlete. Indeed, Teal reported he scored five goals in a recent indoor field hockey game at Mendoza Elementary School in Pomona.

Claremont resident Julian Teal gives a thumbs up before Special Olympics practice at Claremont High School on March 4. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Teal has been diagnosed with mild dyslexia. He started coming to the Saturday sessions about 10 years ago. He saw other athletes getting involved one day, tried it, and now loves it, especially the fitness and competition aspects of track and field. He said the Saturday sessions mean a lot to him, where he can make friends, and “just have fun doing what we actually love.”

While the weekend sessions offer obvious fitness benefits, they also allow athletes to socialize with their peers, Williams said.

Williams and Wickwire began volunteering with Pomona Valley Special Olympics several years ago. Wickwire, a speech therapist at Pomona Unified School District, got involved following the passing of her husband in 2003. Williams has about 14 years with the organization, starting when her eldest son Kenny, 33, graduated CHS in 2009. Looking for activities for her developmentally delayed son, Williams found multiple outlets through the chapter and became a coach shortly thereafter.

Pomona Valley Special Olympics coach Janine Williams gets set to send off a pair of runners at Claremont High School on March 4. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“There isn’t really much to do,” Williams said. “When you’re done with high school, you’re done with transition programs, you’re looking for something to do and there are no programs for 20-year-olds that are ability driven that have options. That’s how we came to tennis, softball, track. They have swimming in other areas.”

Beyond Claremont High, another PVSO practice is held at Pomona and Pitzer Colleges Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness, which opened its doors last month. Athletes there are being taught basketball every Saturday.

Events depend on the coaches Williams and Wickwire can enlist. Sports and venues typically rotate every three to four months.

“I just want them to feel wanted and a part of a group,” Williams said. “It’s really hard to make friends when you’re on the outskirts. They’re associating with people from the colleges and the community, and what better place to do it than an outdoor venue like this.

“They want to connect. The biggest thing is connecting.”

Blaine Behen, a senior at Cal Poly Pomona, has been taking part since he read about the training session last month in the Courier. He recently brought along his brother Donovan, a fifth year student at Cal State Fullerton.

“He brought me in because he had such a great time,” Donovan said. “We both have backgrounds in youth sports, coaching and playing, so getting out here and being able to help out again was a great, great experience. Just seeing the competition … it took a little bit [for them] to pick up a pattern but then once they got it, these kids, everyone flew down the track.”

Louis Zoque runs the track at Pomona Valley Special Olympics team practice at Claremont High School on March 4. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“It’s really fun and friendly. It’s a great time,” Blaine said. “You leave with a really good feeling. Everyone’s really friendly and you have just a good time.”

Donovan added he’s grateful to have been exposed to a new community of athletes. “Being able to put back, and get something out of it is an amazing feeling,” he said.

Volunteers for the weekly sessions are not required to complete a training course or even be athletic. Williams just wants interested locals who can donate up to 90-minutes of their time. Those serious about joining a local Special Olympics chapter can visit sosc.org for details.

In the near future, Williams and Wickwire plan to incorporate bocce into the medley of activities. For upcoming session or volunteering details, call Williams at (909) 518-1496.


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