Nearly 300 students from Santa Rosa-area middle and high schools got a chance to compete and share in the joy of sports at the Santa Rosa Schools Soccer Exhibition in early December.
The event, which was originally set for the fall, was rescheduled after wildfires tore through the region in October. Yet with tragedy comes triumph – as students, teachers and facility staff came together with Special Olympics Northern California to ensure a fun and inclusive day for the athletes.
“Sports is something that every kid likes to do,” said Cora, a junior at Montgomery High School who helped organize the event. “Sometimes general education students are too nervous to talk to students in special education. But sports is something that you can enjoy doing with everyone.”
Cora and other students in general education classes played a major role in the exhibition, including planning and logistics, volunteering during the event and participating in games with their classmates in special education. Unified Sports, which brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete as teammates, has become a leading vessel to encourage inclusion and understanding on campuses.
“In sports you have to work as a group,” said Haley, another junior at Montgomery. “It’s not about winning but working together. I want to get the students in special education involved because many others don’t give them an opportunity. We want to make a difference.”
The Santa Rosa Schools Soccer Exhibition, which marked its third year, focused on team soccer competition, individual skills drills and other activities that encouraged coordination and social engagement. Notable attendees included Rick Tinger, president of Jackson Family Wines, who spoke at the Opening Ceremony; and Jack Tibbetts, vice mayor of Santa Rosa, who spoke at the Closing Ceremony. It was hosted by Epicenter, a 130,000-square-foot sports and family entertainment facility in Santa Rosa that played a major role in supporting, scheduling and rescheduling the event.
“We loved it,” said Jenny Ogston, general manager of Sports City Arena Sports Centers, which operates Epicenter. “The entire building was excited to have the athletes here. It was really an amazing event to be a part of.”
Epicenter paid for the buses to transport athletes to and from the event through the Epicenter Goals Foundation, donated field space and staff through Sports City, opened its trampoline facilities through Rockin’ Jump and provided team T-shirts for the athletes through Screen Printing.
“The majority of us have lived in Sonoma County our entire lives, and being able to give back to our community has been amazing,” said Ogston. “We are very fortunate to be able to help and hope we can continue to support the community in every way possible.”
Santa Rosa schools will come together again, soon, in the same spirit for a basketball competition hosted by Santa Rosa High School.