Special Olympics of Southern California — actually Special Olympics all over the West Coast — is in the midst of celebrating its 50th birthday.
That year-long party is more than half over, with the Southern California Summer Games last month at Cal State Long Beach one of the big highlights. More than 12,000 people attended over the weekend, with more than 1,100 athletes competing.
There still are two big events in Long Beach, both fundraisers for the local chapter and both in August. The annual plane pull, on Aug. 17 this year, where teams of 25 try to pull a 124,000-pound jet across the Long Beach Airport tarmac. There's a 5K/10K that same day. For more, go to http://bit.ly/2SCujOk.
Closer in time, and in the hearts of many Long Beach Special Olympics volunteers, is the 31st Betty Nordholm Classic Golf Tournament on Aug. 2. The tournament is named after Betty Nordholm, who was a 30-year Special Olympics volunteer, and who died 20 years ago, in 1999.
“SOSC and the entire movement would not enjoy success today without the vision, passion and generosity of the Nordholm family," said Bill Shumard, Special Olympics of Southern California. "It is such a privilege to have their daughter, Elyse Garcia, significantly involved up to this very moment.”
Eunice Shriver launched Special Olympics in 1968 on the East Coast in order to give people with intellectual disabilities the chance to compete in sports. The next year, Olympian Rafer Johnson established the program in Southern California, giving the area its 1969 "birth" date. He has continued to be involved in the games here.
For the first 26 years, the organization covered the entire state as the California Special Olympics. In 1995, the split to create Northern and Southern California chapters occurred. In 2007, Special Olympics of Southern California moved its headquarters to Long Beach, where it remains today.
Today, Special Olympics Southern California works with 37,800 athletes through sports, education, and athlete health. The goal, officials say, is to provide year-round athletic training and competition along with health checkups and assistance, and more.
The group's motto, which athletes recite before competitions, sums up the approach to sports. "Let me win, but if I can't win, let me be brave in the attempt." Camaraderie and interaction with others is as important as the competition.
“Mrs. Shriver’s brilliant idea of changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities has had an incredible impact on the entire world over the past half-century," Shumard said. "The simple power of sports has provided confidence, physical fitness and a sense of joy and courage to all who participate. However, the real benefit comes to all of us who are fortunate enough to share the joy with our athletes.”
That goes all the way down to the local level, according to Heather Badgett, chair of the Nordholm Classic. Long Beach has its own chapter so Long Beach athletes don't get left behind, she said.
"We do the plane pull and the golf tournament, " Badgett said. "All of the money we raise stays in Long Beach. It's all used for transportation to the practices and events… We have some our athletes at the golf tournament, and they remember you even though you only see them once a year."
Nordholm was the Area Director of Long Beach Special Olympics for 30 years. Her daughter, Elyse Garcia, has carried her mother's tradition on, and will be at the golf tournament on Aug. 2.
There still are spots available for golfers. Entry is $175 a golfer and includes golf, tee prizes and a steak dinner. Jeff Severson, former pro football player and current band leader, is the host for the day.
For more information or to register for the tournament, go to www.sosc.org.