By John Philip Wyllie
An estimated crowd of 1,500 and NBC Channel 39 turned out to watch the second annual Sweetwater Special Abilities Cluster Soccer Tournament on November 5 at Bonita Vista High. The tournament featured approximately 200 mentally and physically challenged soccer players representing nine Sweetwater Union High School District schools. For the students involved and their proud parents cheering from the sidelines, it was a day that will be long remembered.
Defending champion Southwest High emerged as the winner again after several rounds of spirited play and a decisive 6-1 championship match victory over runner-up Eastlake. Winning coach, R.C. Arciaga, praised his goaltending duo of Nick Castro and Saul Valenzuela for making the biggest impact on the victory. But for Arciaga, the event was more about having fun than winning.
“The kids were very excited on the bus coming over here and they were very proud to wear their brand new uniforms. This is a really great thing for these kids. It makes them realize that they are an important part of our school. It’s fun for them and they have a good time out here. Their parents really appreciate it, too,” Arciaga added.
The idea for a huge intra-district tournament grew out of what was originally a two- school competition between Arciaga’s Southwest Raiders and coach, Charleen Love’s Bonita Vista Barons. Love, who organized this year’s tournament, turned it into a fundraiser for Bonita Vista High’s Special Abilities Cluster ASB. The huge throng gobbled up over $1,300 worth of carne asada, hot dogs and sodas making the event a financial as well as competitive success.
Many of the players demonstrated a lot of heart in playing, but one player that drew particular attention was Eastlake High’s Alberto Ortega. Dubbed “Chivas” by his coach, Bernard Ansola-behere, Ortega displayed amazing skill in dribbling around and through opposing defenders. He netted 10 goals in all including four in one game and participated in the final despite sustaining a painful shoulder injury.
“I wish I could take credit for his skills, but he came to us that way. I think he plays a lot with his family and friends,” Ansolabehere said. “The best part is, he is only a freshman, so he will be back for the next three years to dominate this tournament.”
Thankfully, Ortega won’t have to wait until next year to display his athletic prowess. A February basketball tournament and a May softball tournament are already in the works.