By John Philip Wyllie
Yellow school buses from the four corners of the Sweetwater Union High School District began rolling on to the campus of Bonita Vista High School around 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday. The sweet smell of carne asada and the gentle rhythms of a live reggae band greeted their passengers as they rapidly made their way to the soccer fields adjacent to the school. The players, proudly wearing the colors of their respective high schools, walked a little taller on this day. This was a highly anticipated event for the approximately 200 developmentally disabled participating and the estimated 1,500 people on hand to watch. It was the Third Annual Sweetwater Special Abilities Cluster Soccer Tournament.
“A lot of these kids have brothers or sisters that play (high school) soccer, football or baseball and they are always stuck in the stands watching. Without events like this, these kids would never get the opportunity to get out on the field. Some of them are really competitive, but to most of them winning is not really important. What is important is that they are having fun. And you can see that in their faces,” said San Ysidro Special Education teacher, Theresa Camacho.
While most of the players demonstrated hustle and determination, a handful of players also displayed refined skills. Skills no doubt acquired through the patient encouragement of their siblings, parents and coaches. Players like Eastlake’s Alberto Ortega, Southwest’s Nick Castro, San Ysidro’s Gerardo Garcia and Bonita Vista’s Javier Blea were among the tournament’s top goal scorers. Solid goal-keeping from others like Eastlake’s Isaac Huizar and San Ysidro’s Tia Sao kept their respective team’s hopes alive.
“Events like this are great because it gets all the schools together and allows the kids to socialize with their friends from the other schools,” said East-lake coach, Juan Morales. “Most of these kids know each other, so it is like a giant reunion, but it is also great that they are learning to play together as a team.”
Former San Diego Socker, Rene Ortiz, who is completing his P.E. credential in the district, was a first-time spectator to the tournament.
“I was very impressed with the participation of all of the kids. They are out here playing and having a good time. They are not concerned so much with the things that we always look at like the score. They are just out here competing and enjoying themselves. I think we can learn a lot from them.”
Event organizer, Charleen Love, an Adaptive P.E. teacher at Bonita Vista High, credited the help she received from the Special Abilities staff as crucial in making the event a success. She vowed to make next year’s event bigger and better.
The tournament has turned into a major fundraiser for Bonita Vista High School’s Special Abilities Cluster. The Carne Asada and Nacho lines were twenty deep throughout most of the morning. An estimated $1,300 was raised for the program’s ASB. Some of that money will be used to make next year’s tournament even more memorable.