In grade school, Santa Clarita resident Jackie Hartmann didn’t see anybody with intellectual disabilities on campus.
“When I went to school, there was no one with any disability,” she said. “Today, we’re seeing kids with disabilities in schools. There’s been so much progress with them being accepted into the community, schools and workplace.”
She and her family have been a part of that progress for 19 years with Special Olympics Santa Clarita & Tri-Valley, one of the 10 Southern California regions offering year-round sports training and competition in multiple Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Their work started when Keri, Jackie and Tom Hartmann’s daughter, who has down syndrome, began competing as an athlete in track-and-field events for Special Olympics Santa Clarita.
“I’m not so good at sitting around and doing nothing,” Jackie said, who later became a track-and-field coach, helping athletes with proper warm-up and other skills.
In 1999, Jackie started the Santa Clarita region’s bowling program, volunteering as the tournament coordinator and later as head coach. She currently oversees about 110 athletes, practicing at the Valencia Bowling Center.
Participation only widened in 2001, when the family moved into their Sand Canyon home, built with a tennis court. With seven athletes, they started the tennis program. Today, Tom, who was a competition manager for the 2015 World Games in UCLA for tennis, and Jackie coach about 20 athletes at Golden Valley High School, after the group outgrew their backyard court.
Their involvement has helped accelerate and keep the program running, Special Olympics Santa Clarita director Laura Mayo said. Their second child has also become involved with the organization, volunteering in the SCV and for Special Olympics San Diego.
While the Hartmanns enjoy coaching in sports they love themselves, its all about inclusion, they said.
“Like any kid who plays sports, Special Olympics offers a sense of belonging,” said Jackie. “There’s the opportunity for a person, however old, to practice and compete, win or lose, just others get to experience.”
Much like the Hartmann’s the Santa Clarita region and the rest of the Special Olympics organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with the launch of their campaign, “The Revolution is Inclusion.”
The campaign aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities, create a fully inclusive world and raise $100 million for the Special Olympics movement.
“We’re launching the campaign, led by our athletes, because, despite progress, exclusion is still the reality for millions of people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of their lives…” said Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics chairman, in a statement.
Inclusion has changed the lives of the Hartmanns, but most importantly Keri’s, Jackie said. “There was such an increase in confidence as she competed and practiced. This gave her an outlet to shine, a chance to be a part of something.”
As an athlete of more than 10 years, Keri has participated in multiple sports and activities, with a broader focus in tennis, bowling, bocce and dance.
While Keri and other Santa Clarita Valley athletes now have a variety of sports and activities to participate in, the Hartmanns believe “we still have a long way to go.”
“We are seeing that more is available for this population, but inclusion could be widened,” said Jackie. “Acceptance is about starting at a very early age, and hopefully this and future generations realize what people can accomplish and what they’re capable of.”
Santa Clarita Valley Special Olympics, also joined by the San Fernando and Antelope valleys, serves more than 2,000 athletes and has about 700 coaches and 600 volunteers annually, according to Mayo. Athletes as young as eight years old can choose from 12 sports to compete. One of the latest programs offered includes a wellness program, where athletes learn healthy eating and other life skills.
Among the many events, the region hosts is the Fun in the Sun Chili Cook-Off, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on October 20 at the Jack Bones Equestrian Center. Proceeds benefit the region.
For more information about the event and Special Olympics Santa Clarita, visit www.sosc.org/scvtv.