Set up on the center of the indoor soccer field in the Santa Clarita Sports Center, kids and their families lined up around the ring on Saturday to watch Ray Genesis, Samurai, EyeZ in Disguise and others fight to own the ring at the Wrestling for Autism match.
The event acted as a fundraiser for two local nonprofits — Carousel Ranch and the Include Everyone Project. It was organized by Candice Calcot, who decided to combine two labors of love into one spectacular event.
Calcot’s 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago and her husband is a pro wrestler. New to the Santa Clarita Valley, Calcot found that local organizations were very helpful resources for her family but that not everybody knew about them. She wanted to change that.
“My husband and I wanted to try and put something on so that we could celebrate those that have been helpful to us,” said Calcot. “But then also create an event basically where other parents and families could network and kind of just have a great time, while at the same time raising awareness … They are all struggling, we all are after the pandemic. So we wanted to kind of highlight (Carousel Ranch and Include Everyone) and hopefully, if it goes well, we’ll have this annually.”
Approximately 200 people, mostly kids with parents in tow, attended the event. Kristen DeBenedetto, founder of Include Everyone, said she liked the event because it is something that kids with a disability or without could enjoy. Audiences are encouraged to cheer, boo, praise, jest and get out of their seat — meaning it’s inclusive to those who have trouble sitting still or staying quiet, particularly in a stimulating environment.
“It’s an opportunity to show the city exactly how much we need more inclusive events and how they are for everybody,” said DeBenedetto. “I think a lot of the problem is you get inclusive events for families with disabilities and people feel like they can’t come, that it’s only for that community and it needs to be inclusion, it needs to be everybody together, not necessarily separation. So events like this are perfect for that.”
An example of this was during the fight between Eliza Hammer and Jezette Murray. Hammer, the heel, intentionally went around the audience and lobbed insults to kids to make sure the audience was in full disapproval of her toddler-like insults and tantrums. All Murray had to do was greet the kids with a friendly gesture as she made her rounds and everyone was instantly in love.
The sounds of anguish from the audience could be heard as Hammer gained the upper hand early in the match, but the roar of cheers came when Murray made her comeback. Just before the end of the match, Murray dragged a limp and beat Hammer around the audience so they could get to boo in her face before she was finished.
Genesis said before the match that making sure everyone in the audience was having a good time is probably the most fun part of his gig as a wrestler.
“My goal for tonight is to make people that have not witnessed wrestling for the first time become fans. That’s the most important for me as I wrestled throughout all California, especially for this awesome event that we’re putting on,” said Genesis. “I’m going to help the children, help the kids experience something they’ve never experienced before. And just know that tonight, Ray Genesis will win tonight. I will do anything, with the cheers from the kids and fans. I’ll do whatever it takes.”