With music blasting from speakers and members of the school and Studio City community cheering them on, Cuban and Czech Special Olympics athletes marched down the Ted Slavin Field in a procession to the quad.
There, American staples – hamburgers, watermelon and pies – awaited them.
Volunteer Katie Kreshek ’16 watched from her ice cream sundae booth as the athletes and their families enjoyed a meal.
They ate while listening to speeches and a guest performer who sang and played guitar.
“The Special Olympics is such an amazing program that brings people from all over the world together to celebrate each other’s differences,” Kreshek said. “When I heard from my friends on Community Council about the event, I knew that I wanted to help out in any way that I could.”
After dinner, the athletes and coaches formed a long line down the side of the quad and waited for the ice cream sundaes made and served by Kreshek and other students.
The volunteers smiled as they handed out the sundaes, receiving a “Gracias” or “Dekuju” in return from the grateful and happy delegates.
“It was great seeing and interacting with the athletes even though most of them didn’t speak English,” volunteer Lola Clark ’17 said. “They all seemed so excited to be there and it made the language barrier irrelevant.”
This was the first time that Los Angeles hosted the Special Olympics.
The students and school jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
These particular festivities were part of the Studio City host town community barbecue on the school’s campus.
The school welcomed more than 150 Special Olympics athletes and coaches to Los Angeles July 23, in keeping with President Rick Commons’ goal of achieving a “purpose beyond ourselves.”
“This event stemmed from the Mission Statement phrase ‘purpose beyond ourselves.’ I think that isn’t just about kids doing more community service but also about how the school becomes involved in the city community,” Commons said. “It was a great event for the athletes, community and for the school.”
The school aimed to fulfill Commons’ objective through this event.
In the days following the celebration, the athletes from Cuba and the Czech Republic utilized the campus for training before the games began.
Badminton players used the gym, swimmers trained in the pool and gymnasts practiced in the dance studio.
“It is an honor for us to make our facilities available to the Special Olympics, the athletes and the Studio City community,” Commons said in a press release.
The events hosted on campus, however, were not the only ways that students became involved with the weeklong athletic tournament that ran in Los Angeles from July 13 to Aug. 2.
Eric Han ’17 watched as the Costa Rica and Denmark handball teams began a match at UCLA.
After several passes, the Costa Rican team scored a goal, and Han and the other members of the Future Horizons Club stood up and cheered, holding a handmade sign in support of both teams.
After reaching out to the Special Olympics volunteer organizer, the club was designated to lead in cheering for team handball, volleyball, badminton and table tennis, Han said.
While the Future Horizons club volunteered at the games themselves, Lena Kadogawa ’18 volunteered for the games before they officially started.
Her job was to sort and prepare the athletes’ luggage to be shipped from Cal State Los Angeles to University of California Los Angeles, where the competitors would be staying for the duration of the event.
She settled into a closing rally where performers sang and danced for the athletes, preceding videos that were shown to say goodbye to the athletes and wish them luck with the rest of the competition.
Kadogawa said that she decided to volunteer because of her admiration for the Special Olympics organization.
“I really support the Special Olympics, because I think it wonderfully brings people together of different cultures and nationalities and offers great opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities through sports, something that all people can enjoy and appreciate,” Kadogawa said. “It celebrates diversity.”
Other students attended the event, not as volunteers but as spectators to simply watch the teams play and cheer them on.
Cate Wolfen ’17 was volunteering at Freedom School when she attended the games with campers as part of the camp’s activities.
Freedom School is a summer camp that teaches reading to underprivileged children.
“I think it was a cool experience because it was such a supportive environment with a sense of mutual respect,” Wolfen said. “The Freedom School kids really liked it because they got be up close to and interact with the athletes. For example, a lot of the kids who want to play soccer when they get older went up and got to talk to one of the soccer players despite any language barriers they had.”
Whether they were volunteering at the Special Olympics or simply watching the games, the students said that they were inspired by the event and honored to be a part of it.
It was an experience that they will not soon forget, they said.
“All of the athletes had stories of persistence and hard work behind each of their performances,” Han said. “They really inspired us, so we wanted to be there to cheer them on and inspire them to greater heights in turn.”