Special Olympics a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship

Special Olympics teams compete inside the Clovis North High School Broncos gym. (Photo Jess Gonzalez, Clovis Roundup)

Jess Gonzalez

March 8, 2024 — The loud cheering reached outside the two gyms, basketballs were continually heard thumping heavy on the slick wooden floors, and—being a basketball tournament—the ever-present and distinctive sounds of  officials’ whistles interrupting the action were ever-persistent on the courts. It was Saturday morning, March 8, 2024. The place was the Clovis North High School Broncos gym—home of the Boys Division I CIF Central Section Champions. But, no–it was not the Champion Broncos on the court this time.

The Tournament at Clovis North

All the excitement, the thumping, slick moves, shots, rebounds, and baskets were being made by Olympians—very Special Olympians! It was the celebration of the 2024 Fresno Regional Special Olympics Basketball Tournament. A total of 27 teams from Fresno, Madera, Merced, Kings, and Tulare counties were playing hard to advance in the state competition.

“All the teams were playing their hearts outs—having a great time!” That is how Molly Eide Marquez, one of the event’s organizers, described the action on each of the courts being used. A multitude of people were present.  Smiles everywhere from families, friends, sports fans, and other interested admirers. The competing teams were made up of players of both genders and all ages–from 8 years on up. There was nothing new about the objective in each game; run up and down the court to try and put as many points as possible on the scoreboard for your team.

Haley Janzer, Special Olympics Sports Manager for the Central Valley, informed “the teams have been practicing for this tournament from 6-8 weeks, so they come prepared to play their best.”

The competition was broken up into 5 divisions—all based on the ability levels of the players with over 250 athletes, 50 coaches, and many volunteers were involved in the tournament.

Games were played in eight-minute quarters of running time. The last two minutes of the second and fourth quarter was stoppage time. Each team played 3 or 4 games in one day.

The Special Olympics offer competition in 11 different sports the year around. The Northern California region has nearly 250 competitions in those sports every year.

History of The Special Olympics

The Special Olympics were started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, in the summer of 1962. For years she had seen what she believed to be was an injustice on the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She didn’t like how they were often ignored, neglected, and routinely placed in custodial institutions even though they had many talents and gifts to offer the world.

She had witnessed it firsthand because her sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability. Yet, having grown up with Rosemary, she knew that she was talented and was very capable of participating activities, including in sports.

One day, in the summer of 1962, Eunice invited people with intellectual disabilities to a sports camp in her own backyard. Calling it Camp Shriver, it turned out to be a great success. The gathering that saw first light in her back yard rapidly extended everywhere. In fact, only six years later, in 1968, the first international Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, and the rest is history!

Special thanks

Aside from being highly attended, the tournament at Clovis North had many volunteers. Among the organizations stepping forward were California Health Science, Clovis Rotary, Clovis Police Department, Fresno City College Women’s Soccer Team, East Fresno Rotary, and Clovis Kiwanis were present to lend a helping hand.

“We want to thank all those organizations and volunteers for their help,” informed Molly. “And a special thanks to the Clovis Unified School District and Clovis North High School for allowing us to use their facilities—we’re very appreciative!”

Anyone interested in participating in anyway with the Special Olympics—whether as a participant, volunteer and, or donor—is urged to reach them on the internet at SONC.ORG.