Local athletes from the Special Olympics Southern California gathered at the Long Beach City College Liberal Arts Campus on Thursday evening to celebrate a new partnership that will allow them to use the school’s state-of-the-art training facilities as they prepare for the 2023 Special Olympics Summer Games in June.
“I am honored to have a new home for the Special Olympics,” said Ivan Parrott, Special Olympics Southern California athlete. Parrott said he started swimming when he was a teenager at the Millikan High School pool, but when it closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic for repairs, he had nowhere else to go.
That’s when Parrott had a chance meeting with Gina Mascaro, director of athletic fundraising and development for the LBCC Foundation. The pair met at a baseball game where Parrott’s younger brother and Mascaro’s son played on the same team, and Parrott told her of his passion for swimming.
After learning that he no longer had access to the Millikan pool, Mascaro stepped in to brainstorm the possibility of opening up the Olympic-sized swimming pool and other facilities at LBCC to the Special Olympics Southern California.
“It’s a natural fit for us in terms of our mission and what we represent here,” said Mike Munoz, LBCC district superintendent-president.
After a few months of planning, that partnership came to life Thursday, when over a dozen athletes plunged into the water to kick off their new training space.
The partnership will allow over 80 Special Olympics Southern California athletes to practice at the LBCC Liberal Arts Campus and use the college’s new Aquatic Center, Hall of Champions gym and the track at Veterans Stadium on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Kelly Pond, CEO and President of Special Olympics Southern California, was especially excited to welcome her athletes to the new space, adding that participation is free for all athletes and their families.
“Partnerships like this are what allows our athletes to train and compete,” said Pond. “It really helps to expand our reach, and now … we’re also spreading more awareness about the impact of Special Olympics, creating these experiences for people with and without intellectual disabilities together, and that really helps create acceptance and inclusion and people see what these athletes are capable of.”
Special Olympics Southern California will rent out the facilities on a semester basis at least through the spring season as the team prepares for the 2023 Summer Games scheduled to take place on June 10 and 11 at Cal State Long Beach, according to Pond. It will be the first time in three years that the games will be held in Long Beach, she said.
Her hope is that the partnership will continue through the fall season and beyond, giving as many athletes as possible access to these community spaces.