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Kern County Special Olympics brings home multiple medals competing in basketball

The team began their bowling season at the beginning of July
Posted at 10:01 AM, Jul 10, 2024

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County Special Olympics took three teams to compete against Southern California in basketball. All of the teams brought back medals.

  • Video shows Kern County Special Olympics bowling
  • Athletes with intellectual disabilities can compete in 12 sports year-round with Special Olympics to connect with other athletes like them.

Stopping at this bowling alley is a popular pastime for many people around the county, but for a group of local athletes, it’s a way to perfect their craft and connect with others like them.
You may have picked up a bowling ball in your spare time just like this special group of athletes.

“Technically all of it is my favorite,” Zander Barnes, one of the athletes, said.

Athletes as young as 11-years-old like Barnes who joined Special Olympics Kern County for his first year or more experienced athletes like 55-year-old Tracy Oneal who joined almost 40 years ago.

“I got more comfortable overtime with a lot of athletes because they’re looking out for me,” Oneal said.

They both decided to participate in the program to compete in sports with a community of people like them with intellectual disabilities.

“These are friendships. These are bonds that maybe they missed out on in school, maybe they don’t have that with family. Here, as you see, nothing but smiles," Kellie Peterson, the senior manager of sports and programs for the Kern County chapter of the Special Olympics, said.

The athletes from ages two and up can compete in 12 sports year-round.

“The struggles that are happening in life today, you wouldn’t know it. They are just so encouraging,” Peterson said.

While the competitors bond with each other, the parents and volunteers like Jennifer Carmona, whose daughter joined the team for the first time, can connect with other parents to support each other with advice.

“You never know what’s gonna happen day by day, especially as they get older, so being in this community of Special Olympics, I’ve met tons of parents. They’re so nice, they help you out,” Carmona said.

Carmona adds she sees the impact each practice has on her daughter.

“It’s been really enjoyable for our family to really see her come out of her shell.”

Both women and men transitioned to bowling.

“I’m in the second one, Eric Locke. My first game was 154 and my second game was 141,” Eric Locke, one of the competitors, said as he showed me his score on the board.

But, before this season began, three basketball teams brought home bronze, silver, and gold after competing against all of Southern California.

“I feel like with basketball, you got more competition and it’s more ‘pump up’ with the games,” Kelsey Threlkeld, one of the players on the all girls teams, said.

Those wins built their confidence as they continue to practice their skills at they alley, but more than that, Peterson says these are life long bonds built through friendly competition.

“I like that I get to play sports with other people,” Barnes added.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Special Olympics, you can find more information here.

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