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Athletes train for Special Olympics softball game

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Athletes train for Special Olympics softball game

Good sportsmanship was on display as athletes begin to train for the Special Olympics.

Good sportsmanship was on display as athletes begin to train for the Special Olympics.

Photo | Chris Valentine

Good sportsmanship was on display as athletes begin to train for the Special Olympics.

Photo | Chris Valentine

Photo | Chris Valentine

Good sportsmanship was on display as athletes begin to train for the Special Olympics.

Leandra Galloway,
Sports Editor

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Last Thursday was a windy and chilly night to play ball at Central Park Softball Fields in Fremont. Several men, women, and children of different ages and abilities swarmed the field with smiles and optimistic attitudes as they prepared for the upcoming Special Olympics.

Softball season is underway for the Fremont Eagles Alameda County section Special Olympics softball team. They kicked off their training in preparation for the upcoming regional softball games at the Heather Farm Softball Fields in Walnut Creek this year on Aug. 16 and 17. The team practices every Thursday night at Central Park Softball Fields from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eight weeks of training will be taking place prior to the competition.

The Special Olympics is a worldwide non-profit organization that has been around for 45 years. Physical education instructor Tom Novello has led the Fremont Eagles, which competes in the tournament, since 1975.

Novello has been involved with the program for 40 years and is the head coach for many of the Eagles’ sports teams, including softball, bocce ball, track and field, basketball, and bowling.

The Fremont Eagles is a year-round program provided for athletes that are interested in various sports. Athletes come from Union City, Hayward, San Leandro, Newark, and Dublin to be part of the program.

Players were spread out on different areas of the softball field to work on their technique. The rules are modified compared to standard softball regulations. Skills like keeping the ball in front of you, basic feel and gripping, throwing and catching were worked on throughout the night.

Athletes were very receptive and appreciative of the help from coaches. Players were also given the chance to work on their swing form, how to properly run the bases and tag players out, and hit the ball off the tee.

Athlete Ryan Rooker expressed with a big smile the joy of Thursday night’s practice. “I was playing outfield and catching the balls,” stated Rooker.

Some of the athletes have ADHD, autism, and cerebral palsy. Many of the athletes are learning basic motor and communication skills, and how to focus on listening and patience. Regardless of the athletes’ capabilities they are able to compete fairly, and challenge their level of play.

Leslie Normandin, parent of a 25-year-old athlete, shared her thoughts about the softball program. “It’s a good program because it gives kids of all skills a chance to get out there and hit the ball,” said Normandin.

“It’s been a real joy seeing the smiling faces on the athletes and I enjoy seeing their enthusiasm,” said Novello.

Regional games happen every year and national games occur every four years. Many coaches, volunteers, and parents were in attendance at Thursday night’s practice in support of the athletes.

The Northern California Region of Special Olympics sponsors the program. They provide funding, equipment, and medical evaluations, as well as organizing the tournaments and locations for the events that occur in Special Olympics. This year 70 athletes are signed up for the softball league.

Athletes are placed in different levels based on their experience and knowledge of the sport. Various coaches and volunteers are assigned to each level. Four levels are offered through the program.

The program is completely free. As a whole, the program is working on improving their marketing approaches. “We would like to attract younger athletes,” said Coach Mark Reynolds.

Local restaurants and the police department are sponsors for the Eagles program and organize fundraising awareness events to support the league. The Friends of Children With Special Needs Organization in Fremont help their consumers that are 13 and up sign up for the Fremont Eagles every year.

Special Olympics programs are also linked in with special education programs at many schools around the Bay Area. Volunteers are encouraged to apply.

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Athletes train for Special Olympics softball game