An Inspirational Day at the Special Olympics Southern California 2015 Fall Games

An Inspirational Day at the Special Olympics Southern California 2015 Fall Games

     This is it - what over 1100 athletes having what I call, “special gifts” have been waiting for, and training for all year: The Special Olympics Southern California Fall Games.  The Fall Games were held at three different venues - Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, & Irvine with athletes competing in six sports: bowling, floor hockey, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball, with an expected attendance of more than 4000 athletes, coaches, volunteers, and spectators over the course of the two-day event.  As a photojournalist who desires to cover it all, I had to reluctantly select only one venue: Fountain Valley Recreation Center and Sports Park where the soccer and tennis events would be held.     

     The morning met me with a beautiful sky, a nice cool breeze, and the excited buzz of activity of all those present in preparation of the day’s events.  As I strolled about the grounds prior to the opening ceremonies soaking in all the sights and sounds, I noticed there was no shortage of smiles and infectious giggles from the abundant athletes. The Dance of JoyNestled among the grounds, was a family pavilion tent that provided an area where families could meet other families and learn about Special Olympics programs.  There was also a festival tent where attendees could participate in non-competition activities and featured entertainment, sponsored - run booths with interactive games, arts and crafts, and community groups ---this was truly a family event.                                                                                                          Festival tent ActivitiesFestival tent ActivitiesFestival tent Activities


      A few minutes before the opening ceremonies, I strategically positioned myself with the hopes of visually capturing the essence of unity and partnership, which were just a few of the attributes of the Special Olympics I had the privilege of witnessing on prior occasions.  During the opening ceremonies, one of the speakers was Rafer Johnson, the founder of the Southern California Special Olympics and for whom I had the honor and privilege of first meeting at the Special Olympics World Games last July; the words he spoke inspired us all.  Rafer Johnson - Founder of the Southern California Special OlympicsThe ceremony concluded with carrying of the Special Olympics torch by  Captain Hartmann of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and Special Olympics Southern California athlete Jennifer Bleidistel from Torrance; Captain Hartmann’s lighting of the cauldron symbolically marked the beginning of the Fall Games.

      As I made my way towards the soccer field, my assistant Christina LaScala and I came across internationally known Brazilian actor Vinicius Machado, who is best known for playing Faymen Phorchin on the teen sitcom “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and who recently played character Tony Chessani on HBO's True Detective.  I found Vinicius to be very personable and gracious when I asked him for a few minutes of his time for an interview.  As we spoke, Vinicius expressed to me his desire to be a part of the Special Olympics and to use his positon in life, “…to be able to give back and to serve…and to be a part of something special as the Special Olympics.”  With a hint of controlled excitement, Vinicius told me he planned on spending the day attending as many of the events as he could and “serve” in whatever capacity he could.  I left Vinicius’ presence with a feeling of gratitude that I was able to meet such a man as this who sincerely wanted to “give back.” (To listen to the full interview, click on the following:

Freddie B. with Brazilian Actor Vinicius Machado & Freddie B.'s assistant Christina LaScala  
     I arrived at the soccer field and met with Eileen Lagore, the coach of the Riverside soccer team, “Blue Titans” - the team I was going to cover for the soccer competition.  Eileen told me she has been a Special Olympics soccer coach for two years and this year has been especially exciting for her and the team as they have been on a winning streak.  Eileen said she became involved with the Special Olympics many years ago as a result of her special needs son and since then, has coached swimming, track, Bocce, and now currently soccer.  I asked about Eileen how she felt when she watched her athletes participate in the Special Olympics.  With obvious joy in her voice, Eileen expressed to me how excited she became when she watched her athletes get excited at being “included” and over something as simple as kicking the ball.  Eileen explained to me that participating in the Special Olympic events gave the athletes a sense of accomplishment and “belonging”, something they had difficulty with elsewhere because of their special needs.  When I finished speaking with Eileen, I had no doubt this was one special lady who not only was dedicated to, but truly loved and believed in the cause and mission of the Special Olympics.

     As I watched the Blue Titans first compete against the Santa Barbara team then the Pico Rivera team, I noticed they played with such vigor and enthusiasm as anyone would find with any mainstream athletic team.  Mixed among the kicks, blocks, dives, and sprints down the field, the athletes displayed such teamwork that anyone watching would find it difficult to not be inspired.  But in spite of the competitive spirit among the athletes, there were plenty of joyful smiles, giggles, and laughter that made the experience of witnessing such an event something that would linger within my heart, soul, and mind for days to come, and I am confident I am not alone in this.

Blue Titian's Team Photo                                                                                             Team Cheer  


     Before I reluctantly left the soccer field, I met with Blue Titans “forward” Shahid Ginwala to compliment him on his adept playing on the field that was instrumental in leading his team to victory.  Shahid humbly explained to me this was his first year competing in the Special Olympics, during which time he won the “Gold” at the 100 meter, 200 meter, & 1500 meter race in the Special Olympics Track & Field.  Shahid also told me he has only been playing soccer for three months, which one could not tell by the superior level of skill he played on the field.  Within Shahid, I suspect laid an athelte destined for greatness. 

Shahid Ginwala

     I finished the day by watching tennis player athlete Elsa Fryer, a.k.a. “Miss Smiles”, as she competitively volleyed the ball back and forth with her opponent in what I noticed was both in an earnest and joyful manner.  On several occasions, Elsa would pause in her game play to make a cheer of triumph and at one point, she momentarily stood motionless in an obvious intentional comical pose as to solicit laughter for those in attendance - it worked…and it was infectious; Elsa truly lived up to her nickname. 

Elsa Fryer  Elsa Fryer  Elsa Fryer  Elsa Fryer

     Watching Elsa reminded me one of the many reasons I desired to cover the Special Olympics as a photojournalist - to witness the athletes displaying their exuberant joy and pride of being included and of being part of something so special!

     This weekend concluded the end of the Special Olympics Southern California Games for 2015.  But if what I witnessed, experienced, and shared during the 2015 games is a preview of what is to come in 2016, there is little to nothing that will keep me away!

To view more images of the Special Olympics Southern California 2015 Fall Games at this venue, click here:

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Written by: Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography™) See other articles by Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography™)
About the Author:

   Fred Neil Bommer II, aka Freddie B., was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in July 2015 after he recently discovered his adult son was suspected of having it, then researching it himself, which solved his lifelong mystery about why he was the way he was and was so different from most others.  But in spite of the life’s challenges and struggles Freddie B. experienced as an "Aspie" throughout his life, he discovered an "escape" early on--photography, followed by a passion for writing. 

      In early 2015, Freddie B. put his love and passion of photography to use by becoming a photographer for, ultimately covering the nine days of the Special Olympic World Games LA 2015 in the latter part of July as a credentialed media photographer.  Then a few months later, Freddie B. was able to add his love and passion for writing to the mix by becoming a credentialed photojournalist for

     Freddie B. is a member of the Professional Photographer's of America Assn. (PPA) and the National Press Photographers Assn. (NPPA) and aspires to be a freelance photojournalist traveling abroad beginning in early 2017.

To read more about Freddie B. and view samples of his photographic work, including that of the Special Olympic World Games LA2015 and other Special Olympic events he has covered, please visit his web page at and his Facebook page at


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