Local hoops team heads to Special Olympics Summer Games 

The Diva Sharks. Photo courtesy of SCV Special Olympics.

Santa Clarita will be represented in this year’s Special Olympics Southern California Southern California Games as a local women’s basketball team, the Diva Sharks, looks to bring home the gold. 

The Diva Sharks are led by coach Scott Norton, who has coached basketball for 35 years. The coach regards this team as one of his strongest teams in recent years and is excited to see what they can do in Long Beach over the weekend. 

The Sharks are led by veteran players Lindsay Kautiainen, Jean Garong and Stefanie Silvers.   

“Lindsay, I call ‘Automatic,’ she’s a really good scorer,” Norton said. “She can really shoot the ball and she really knows the game … Jean, the ‘Warrior,’ she’s that player that does everything. She’s super aggressive on defense, she rebounds well and she is just an all-around player.  Stefanie is very fast. She’s our point guard. She handles the ball (and) makes good decisions.” 

Norton has leaders on his team but gets contributions from his entire roster. Newer players like Kate Mooy and Kayla Livermoore have also been key to success for the Sharks. 

“(Kate’s) very aggressive, fast and she she’s just learning basketball for the most part, but she’s a good athlete,” Norton added. “Kayla is another one who’s a good athlete and she’s been playing for me for a few years now. She really is learning the sport well and has come a long way with passing.” 

Ana Avila, Vanessa Planas, Briana Reyes, Alondra Rodriguez and Teresa Williams will be some other Diva Sharks ready to leave their marks on the Special Olympics.  

The games begin on Saturday, with contests taking place in Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid and Goldminer Gym. The players will also march in the Special Olympics parade in the opening ceremony and be guests at a dance on Saturday night.  

Norton knows his players are excited for the whole weekend at the Special Olympic Games, which only a few players have experienced before. 

“They are equally excited about the games, as well as the whole experience,” Norton said. “The Saturday night dance, which is a superheroes theme, is great because we go and the girls are all dressed up. They’ll be in their uniforms for the opening ceremonies which are a big deal. They’ll march in the parade.” 

The coach praised his team’s ability on and off the court, as his players have showed dedication as well as some stellar chemistry. Normally Special Olympic teams meet just once a week but the Diva Sharks opted into a voluntary extra practice day every week, showcasing their commitment.  

“They’re great, the attendance is really good, and just the mesh of the group is really good,” Norton said. “We’d have years where you have players for whatever reason who had tension but we don’t have any of that this year. All the girls are very supportive of each other and they have a lot of fun. There are laughs and giggles when we’re not working hard but then, when we work hard, they turn their attention to it. This has definitely been one of the most fun seasons I’ve had with them.” 

The weekend will be a fun one for the Diva Sharks, that is until the first tip-off where Norton’s fierce team will lock in. 

“I heard somebody say it recently that sometimes people don’t think that Special Olympic athletes can be fierce,” Norton said. “They almost always are super loving and caring, but they can be fierce competitors too. They want to practice, they want to get better, they want to play hard. They want to succeed.” 

The competition will be tough, and the Diva Sharks enter the weekend as underdogs. However, Norton feels like his team has the makings of championship or a medaling team.  

“I know there’s a really good girls team that’s going to be there,” the coach said. “We are the underdog to them for sure. I would definitely like to see us get a medal, be competitive in all of the games. I think that would be a real success.” 

Norton and the players are excited to return to the Summer Games for the first time in over four years.  

“Everybody was affected by the pandemic and Special Olympics certainly was,” Norton said. “We spent two seasons doing online activities instead of being able to get together. So this is really a culmination of things that have been opened up, obviously for now for a couple of years. But we haven’t been all together like we will be at the Summer Games. We have not gotten to participate in that. So for me, this is a real back to the future, if you will. I’m very excited.” 

The Lady Divas take the court on Saturday at Long Beach State.  

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