Fairgrounds hosts Special Olympics hockey tourney
By Ruth Marvin Webster
Everyone went home a winner from the Special Olympics San Diego Regional Floor Hockey Tournament on Dec. 13.
This year, 200 athletes from communities all over Southern California arrived at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the highly anticipated daylong tournament, which is the organization's third largest sporting event of the year.
San Diego teams including the San Diego Gulls, the Apaches from El Cajon, the Stings from Vista competed head to head with other teams from the region, including San Bernardino, Riverside and Irvine.
The tournament followed a round robin format with 15 teams facing off in five divisions. Based on age and ability, each of three division teams was certain to garner a gold, silver or bronze metal at the end of the day.
But more important than the medals was the chance to participate in a team sports and to develop friendships and physical fitness in the process, organizers said.
Created by the Kennedy Foundation in 1968, the Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The San Diego Chapter includes more than 1,000 athletes, while over a million are involved in Special Olympics worldwide.
Kelcie Kopf, regional sports manager for the San Diego chapter of the Special Olympics, said anyone with an intellectual disability can join a local team and that the program is free. The foundation provides training, uniforms and equipment.
Floor hockey is the only winter sport and is played on a 40-by-80-foot-long indoor court with five people on a team plus a goalkeeper. It is much like ice hockey, but was designed especially by Special Olympics and is fast-paced and strategic. Both the hockey sticks and pucks are covered in felt.
"There's no pity around here," Kopf said. "These guys may have a disability, but they are certainly not disabled. They are very capable and they're out here tearing it up."
While floor hockey is the only winter Special Olympics sport in San Diego, come spring, swimming, basketball, bocce ball, golf and gymnastics will be made available and in the summer, bowling, soccer, softball and volleyball starts.
The Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games are held each year in June.