Irvine to play host for 2015 Special Olympics
By Matt Morrison
The 1984 Summer Olympics was Southern California's last huge event.
But next summer, athletes from around the globe will again compete here - and Irvine will play its part in making it happen.
Los Angeles will host the 2015 Special Olympics World Games from July 25 to Aug. 2. While all the sporting venues will be in L.A., several Orange County communities are lining up to be involved.
Established in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics has grown into a worldwide movement promoting acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities through sports and emphasizing the joy of participation over competition.
Irvine will be among 100 cities across the region serving as a host town to delegations of athletes, coaches and chaperones from 177 countries. The distinction was approved during a special session of the Irvine City Council on Tuesday.
For three days leading up to the opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, more than 130 international guests will be housed at the UC Irvine dorms to get a taste of Southern California culture.
A host town committee will provide housing, transportation and meals during the stay. Planned events include a Western-style barbecue, a shopping excursion and an outing to the Great Park.
With 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches expected to take part next summer, organizers say the Host Town Program is a way roll out the welcome wagon while showcasing cultural diversity throughout the region.
"It's one of the largest cities, and it's pretty well-known," Joann Klonowski, vice president of Host Town Southern California, said about Irvine. "This will also put [Irvine] more on the map worldwide."
Sixty-seven of the expected 100 cities have signed up, including Santa Barbara and Long Beach. A few more in western Orange County are to be announced in the next several weeks. The process typically requires cooperation with city governments and support from local service organizations and corporate sponsors.
"It's a great opportunity. It'll be fun for the athletes," Klonowski added. "They will touch your lives like you won't believe. You'll touch theirs. It changes their lives."
Only a few athletes from Orange County will compete as part of Team USA, but many will be involved as volunteer ambassadors. In announcing the event at the council meeting, 31-year-old Willie Pistolesi, a member of the Irvine Eagles Special Olympics team, said the event "will have a lasting impact on athletes around he globe."
Pistolesi will work the turntables and microphone as the designated deejay for the athletes dance, planned for the night before the opening ceremony.
"It's going to be fun," said Josh Levine after he spoke in the council chambers. The 34-year-old Orange County Special Olympian of the Year compared his experience in the program to transforming into a superhero.
"I am going to cheer the different athletes as much as possible," he said.